college admissions consulting

by Robyn Stewart, former financial aid officer at College of the Holy Cross

If you are a regular reader of the Bright Horizons College Coach blog, you know that students are not required to include information about their non-custodial parent (NCP) on the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). There are institutions, however, that do collect this information. Over 200 colleges and universities require students to complete a second application called the College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, and most of these require students to have their NCP submit income and asset information as part of the student’s aid application.

Financial aid officers understand that getting this information may be difficult or impossible for some students. Since failure to complete the non-custodial parent’s part of an aid application may result in the student losing institutional financial aid dollars, colleges that require non-custodial parent information have a process by which the student can request that the requirement to include NCP information be waived.

Here’s what to do if you are unable to meet a college’s NCP requirement:

  • Contact the financial aid office at each of the schools requesting this information to determine what they need from you to waive this part of the application.
    Most private schools have a defined process, and each institution will likely have its own set of required documentation that the student will need to provide.
  • Gather documentation that will support your case.
    Schools will ask for letters from people outside of the student’s family who can explain the nature of the relationship between the student and the NCP. This third party might be a guidance counselor who can explain that she has never met the NCP at a parent event, a clergy member who can discuss the student’s family situation, an attorney who can explain challenges the custodial family has had securing child support, or a mental health professional discussing the impact the NCP has had on the student.
  • Third party support may not be necessary if the student would be placed at risk by contacting the NCP.
    Some colleges may view restraining orders restricting the non-custodial parent’s access to the student or the student’s custodial parent as enough documentation. Court records that outline the circumstances whereby the non-custodial parental rights were terminated also may be part of this process. The student will need to provide copies of protection from abuse orders, social worker reports, or law enforcement records. Even if there is no current danger, students are encouraged to submit past documentation, as colleges do not want to put their candidates at risk as part of the financial aid application process.

Colleges that require the NCP Profile are including the non-custodial parent because they want to treat all parents equally. They recognize that parents do not end their relationship with their children when they divorce and that all parents have a responsibility to provide for their children. These colleges do not think it is fair to ask students who have two married parents to pay more for college than students with two parents who are not married to each other.

Schools are careful to safeguard the privacy of all families and won’t allow one parent to see the information submitted by the other. All education records, including financial aid applications and supporting documentation, are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Families need to remember that both the federal government and the schools consider it the family’s primary responsibility to pay for the child’s education and will not determine financial aid eligibility until they have assessed the family’s ability to pay.

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Written by Robyn Stewart
Robyn Stewart is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance experts. Prior to joining College Coach, she worked as a former financial aid officer at College of the Holy Cross. Visit our website to learn more about Robyn Stewart.