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What are Your Options When Your Parents Refuse to File the FAFSA?

Mark Kantrowitz

July 26, 2010

I am hoping you can help me with my FAFSA issue. I am 16 and a senior this year in high school, so I plan on attending a university in the fall. However, my dream college is a private university and is extremely expensive. My parents refuse to help pay a dime towards furthering my education — they believe college isn’t necessary and that I can get by without it. I begrudgingly accepted this, but asked if they would give me their tax information so I can fill out the FAFSA. They now won’t even let me look at their tax information and refuse to fill out the FAFSA because they don’t want the government seeing their assets and what not and don’t want an audit. This was extremely upsetting for me, as the scholarship I want to apply for requires a completed FAFSA, and a FAFSA is required for a work-study job on campus. I have pretty much no money for college myself, just $1,000 in my personal account but that is all I have. I’m not sure how much we make — my mom doesn’t have a job and my dad is a printer and owner of our family business, which is enough to make ends meet, but we are definitely middle class. I am willing to take out loans, but I can’t pay my entire education on loans. The FAFSA considers me to be a dependent student. Is there any way I can receive federal aid while still being a dependent student and not filling in my parents information? — M. D.

As President Barack Obama said, “In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity — it is a prerequisite.” There are more jobs available for college graduates than for people with just a high school diploma. Unemployment is lower for college graduates and salaries are higher.

But your goal of enrolling in the film school at one of the most expensive private colleges in the US is unrealistic. This college charges $37,500 a year in tuition alone. Even with student aid you would have to borrow excessively in order to attend this college and you will have difficulty repaying that debt as a starving artist. You should consider pursuing a more practical field of study instead, one that will help you pay your bills after you graduate, and enroll in a less expensive college. You might be able to minor or double-major in film.

The US Department of Education does not currently share FAFSA application data with the IRS. Discuss your situation with a financial aid administrator at the college; sometimes they can help address your parent’s concerns about the privacy of the information provided on the FAFSA.

However, it is possible that your parents may not have filed their federal income tax returns. (Self employment combined with excessive concern about triggering an audit increases the likelihood of tax evasion or tax fraud.) If they haven’t paid their taxes, you won’t be eligible for federal student aid until they do.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 allows a student whose parents refuse to complete the FAFSA and who have terminated all financial support to obtain unsubsidized Stafford loans of $5,500 to $7,500 a year, depending on the year in school. That is just a drop in the bucket compared with college costs at an expensive private college.

If your parents do not change their minds about completing the FAFSA and helping you pay for college, there are only two practical options. One is to enroll at a low cost community college. You might be able to obtain a part-time job to pay for the college costs. The other is to wait until you turn age 24 to go to college, when you will automatically be considered independent.


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