In this series I am going to talk about special topics or circumstances if your family situation doesn’t fit into the “norm”. What I mean by the “norm” is: married, average student, average grades, employed by a company (not your own), non-minority, etc. You get the point.

Anyway, most families, in one way or another, don’t fit into the statistical norm, and must be aware of how this will affect their chances of qualifying for financial aid. So without further ado, let’s talk about.

Vital Things You Must Know If You Fit Into One Or More Of The Following Categories:

Category #1 – Divorced or Separated Parents

If you are currently divorced or separated (or will be soon), and your child will be applying to colleges next year, there are a few key things you should be aware of:

  1. The financial aid forms should be completed by the parent with whom the student lives for the greater part of the year. For example, if a child lives with his mother for 8 months out of the year and with his father only 4 months, the income and asset information should be based on the mother only.
  2. If the parent with whom the child resides is remarried, you must include the income and the assets of the stepparent as if he or she was the biological parent. This may not sound fair, but this is the way the financial aid formulas work.
  3. Private colleges and universities can ask to see the income and asset information of the “other” divorced parent when awarding their own funds. However, this information will not affect federally based funds.

Category #2 – Academically or Athletically Gifted Students, And Minorities

Although most financial aid is based on “need”, it is also important to remember that financial aid packages are based to some extent on how badly colleges need your child. There are three major areas that you should pay close attention to when applying for financial aid:

  1. Academically Gifted Students – One of the primary scholarships awarded based on academic merit is the National Merit Scholarship Program. It is given to students who do extremely well on their PSAT/NMSQT scores. Also, many schools (outside of the Ivy League) try to attract top students away from the more highly rated schools by offering academic scholarships. If your child is academically gifted, use this as a bargaining chip.
  2. Athletes – Even if your child is not Division #1 sports material, don’t assume that Division #2 or #3 schools won’t offer you preferential packaging (more grants, less loans) to attract your child to their school. Make sure you get in touch with the athletic department and make it a point to meet the coach at each school you visit. Also, get the high school coach to write letters of recommendation to each school.
  3. Minorities – If your child is African American, Hispanic, or Native American, contact the colleges and find out about the availability of scholarship programs for minorities. Although there is some debate over awarding these types of scholarships, colleges in 19 states currently make these types of awards.

Category #3 – Owning Your Own Business.

If you currently own your own business, or you are thinking of starting one, there are significant benefits when it comes to getting money for college. To begin with, business assets are counted much less heavily than personal assets. Also, you have the ability to control (or lower) your income during the years that your child is in college, thereby making you eligible for more financial aid. All in all, owning or starting a business can be a big help in getting money for college.

Category #4 – Recently Unemployed.

If you were recently terminated, or have received notice that you will be terminated, or if you own your own business and cannot make a living due to current economic conditions, you must make the college financial aid officer aware of this. There is something called “professional judgment” that a financial aid officer can use to help you out in this situation. Most frequently, what they can do for you is use “expected income” rather than the previous year’s income which is more reflective of your current financial state.

Category #5 – Independent Students.

For those of you who plan to try to make your child appear to be “independent” so you can get more financial aid, you’re in for a shock! There are 6 criteria that will be used to determine whether or not your child will be considered independent:

  1. They will be 24 years of age or older before December 31st of their 1st year of college.
  2. They are a veteran of the armed forces.
  3. They are an orphan or ward of the court.
  4. They have legal dependents.
  5. They are a graduate or professional student.
  6. They are married.

If your child doesn’t fit into one of the above criteria, forget about trying to prove that they are independent – it won’t work!

Category #6 – Applying For Early Decision.

If you plan to apply for financial aid, we have only one recommendation concerning applying for early decision.

Don’t Do It!

If your child gets accepted to a school for early decision, they must go to that school even if they offer you an unfair financial award. The school is also aware of this which gives them an incentive to “under-award” you. If you still decide to apply for early decision, just be forewarned.

Check your email next week for the next “College Tip” in my series where I will be discussing 5 little-known secrets to paying for college if you don’t get enough financial aid.