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Applying for financial aid is tough for students who have parents married to one another. It’s even tougher for students whose parents are divorced, remarried, or were never married.

The central financial aid application that most colleges use, the FAFSA, will ask a student to provide information “about the parent you lived with more during the past 12 months (or the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months, or during the most recent year that you actually received support from a parent if the student did not live with one parent more than another parent in the prior twelve months).” It then adds “If this parent is remarried as of today, answer the questions about that parent and your stepparent.” This means that a student completes the FAFSA with the parent and stepparent (if there is one) in whose home he spent the most time. The non-custodial parent is not included (though if the non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent, this child support is reported as untaxed income to the custodial household).

Colleges that rely solely on the FAFSA as their financial aid application will base their financial aid offers only on the student’s custodial household, as defined above.

About 300 colleges, almost all private colleges, will go a bit further. They may ask a student‘s non-custodial parent to submit a form called the College Scholarship Service Non-Custodial Profile. This form collects information from the non-custodial parent (and his or her spouse if there is one). Colleges that collect this form may base their financial aid offer on the mother and father’s combined income and assets, on the income and assets of all parents and stepparents, etc. There is no standardization.

Some Helpful Hints for Appying for Financial Aid:

    • Custodial Stepparents. Regretfully, the Department of Education will not allow colleges to offer your stepchild federal funds unless you are willing to disclose your income and assets on their FAFSA. The colleges cannot override this. But remember, you don’t have to pay for your stepchild’s education: sharing information through the FAFSA with the colleges does not obligate you to pay your stepchild’s bills.
    • Non-custodial Parents. If your child asks you to provide information to the college via the CSS Profile or another means, please do. The college probably will not be willing to offer your child financial aid if they ask for this information and do not get it. The college should be very careful to keep your information private and unavailable to your child or your child’s other parent. If you have concerns about privacy, reach out to the college’s financial aid office directly and share them.
    • Everyone. Don’t lose site of the point a child important to all of you is going to college! It’s important for everyone to come together and get through the financial aid application process as easily as possible, so that the student receives the financial aid for which she might qualify.

College Coach’s financial aid experts can help you navigate the process of applying for financial aid for your child.

Written by College Coach
College Coach® is the nation’s leading provider of educational advising, offering expert guidance from the best college admissions consultants on the college admissions and finance process. Our goal is to help each student maximize his or her chances of success through services focused on their personal desires, goals, individual strengths, and accomplishments.