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How to Include Yourself on Your Teen's FAFSA if You're Enrolled Too

Mark Kantrowitz

February 01, 2010

How should a FAFSA be filled out if I have two children going to college and I am enrolling in a graduate program? When it asks how many are attending college it says do not include parents. How do they know that I am also attending college? — Vicki Y.

I am a single parent in college and my daughter is also in college. Why is a parent in college excluded on FAFSA for the child? As a result my child has a huge EFC that I cannot meet. — Kajaffa K.

I will be junior and 39 this fall. My son will be a freshman. My EFC is lower than his because the FAFSA instructions do not allow him to include me, his parent, as someone who will be attending in college. This means that I will receive more aid than him?! It seems nonsensical that the EFC of family members should be different (he has no income). Is there some logic for this, or have we fallen through a crack? — David W.

The Higher Education Amendments of 1998 (P.L. 105-244) changed the federal need analysis formula to exclude parents from the number in college, effective starting with the 2000-2001 academic year. Instead, it became a professional judgment item, subject to the discretion of college financial aid administrators.

Congress changed the formula because of widespread abuse. The number in college question has a big impact on financial aid eligibility because the parent contribution portion of the expected family contribution (EFC) is divided by the number in college. Some parents would enroll in a local community college just to qualify their children for more financial aid. Many didn’t even attend classes, but instead would allow the registration to cancel because of nonpayment of the bursar’s bill.

If a parent is genuinely enrolled in college at the same time as their child, they should ask their child’s college for a professional judgment review. The college financial aid administrator will want to see proof of enrollment, such as a paid bursar’s bill. They will also verify the enrollment with the other college.

(If the college discovers evidence of fraud, the case will be referred to the Office of the Inspector General at the US Department of Education for possible prosecution. The penalties for fraudulently obtaining federal student aid include fines of up to $20,000 and imprisonment for up to 5 years, in addition to disgorgement of the undeserved financial aid. Some colleges will also take disciplinary action against a student for fraud on the financial aid applications.)

Colleges generally take one of two approaches to making an adjustment when parents are enrolled in college. One approach involves increasing the number in college to include the parents. The other approach involves subtracting the actual amounts paid for the parent’s college education from income. Adjustments will generally be made only when the parents are enrolled at least half-time in a degree or certificate program at a college eligible for federal student aid.

If the parent’s tuition is low compared with income, increasing the number in college will yield a bigger reduction in the EFC. Otherwise subtracting the tuition from income will yield a bigger reduction in the EFC.

Note that even if the college makes an adjustment to count the parents as enrolled in college, there may still be large differences in the expected family contributions of the student and parent. Parent and child income and assets are treated differently by the need analysis formula. Also, the parent’s FAFSA will not include child’s income and assets when calculating the parent’s EFC because the child isn’t expected to contribute to the parent’s college education.


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