Retrieved from excelsior.com
The Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA, program is a great idea on paper. This is the government program that gives federal loans and grants to eligible students who want to attend college. Many of us wouldn’t be able to attend college if we didn’t receive loans and/or grants, so this program is crucial to funding our education. Unfortunately, if your parents are not helping you pay for college, everything becomes even more stressful.
Much of the problem comes from the fact that even if the student’s parents aren’t helping them pay for school, the student will still most likely have to file as a dependent. This means that the amount of financial aid these students receive will be based on their parent’s income because the government assumes that parents will help pay for school. They assume this because, “The federal government and the schools consider it primarily the family’s responsibility to pay for school” (FinAid.org). This leaves students, whose income is typically well beneath the poverty line, receiving aid that would be appropriate for their parent’s income. Some would think that the solution would be to file as an independent. However, even if a student would like to file as an independent, in hopes of receiving more aid, they need to meet some specific criteria.
To qualify for independent status, you need to meet at least one of these criteria: you’re at least 24 years old, you’re an orphan or were a ward of the court until you were 18 years old, you’re a veteran of the Armed Forces, you’re a graduate of professional student, you have legal dependents that aren’t your spouse, or you’re married. FinAid states that the only one of these criteria that can be controlled by the student is if they’re married.
Let’s say a student gets married and they’re planning on filing as an independent. Even after this, “Changing the student’s status to independent through marriage might not increase eligibility for financial aid.” They may not be given more financial aid even if they get married, because, “What counts is the student’s marital status as of the date he or she submitted the [FAFSA].” If the student were to get married after they submitted their FAFSA, they wouldn’t be considered an independent until the next year. This happens because “Federal law specifically prohibits schools from changing a student’s marital status mid-year” (FinAid.org).
For students who are paying for college on their own, this system is one that fails them. We encourage independence in this country, yet we cannot give much-needed independence to the future of this country. Everyone should have the option to continue their education after high school without racking up crippling debt; especially in our society where college is priced like a luxury, yet treated like a necessity. If we value education and our country’s future, something needs to change.