If you have a parent who is attending college, then you may be wondering how that affects your eligibility for federal financial aid. Before you begin filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you need to know what to expect.
First, the good news: Financial aid received by a parent does not count as income on the FAFSA; and if your parent receives federal student loans for school, that in no way reduces your eligibility to also obtain financial aid. In fact, having a parent in school may entitle to you to receive additional monetary support.
Adjusting the “Number in College” Figure
If you have a parent in college, this cannot automatically be counted in the “number in college” figure on your FAFSA. (It used to be allowed, before 2001, but too many parents were fraudulently enrolling in community college to improve their children’s financial aid packages.) However, after submitting the FAFSA as you normally would, you have the option of requesting a Professional Judgment to adjust the “number in college” figure to include your parent.
Financial aid offices are authorized by Section 479A of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to conduct Professional Judgement reviews of students’ and prospective students’ FAFSA applications. While financial aid administrators cannot modify the U.S. Department of Education formulas by which financial aid needs are calculated, they can assess your specific circumstances and make corresponding adjustments to the data inputs on your FAFSA application. These adjustments will typically result in a reduced Expected Family Contribution (EFC), enabling you to qualify for more substantial financial aid.
Pro tip: If your EFC is already zero, financial aid administrators can offer more financial aid by raising your cost of attendance.
You will need to request a second look from each school that you are seriously considering attending - which could be a lot of work! The financial aid office of each school will need to see proof (in the form of written documentation) that your parent is enrolled at least half-time in a degree or certificate program. Upon submitting the proper paperwork and receiving approval, the financial aid office will increase the “number in college” figure on your FAFSA. As a result, you will receive a revised package of financial aid from each school.
The Importance of Timing
If you need to request a Professional Judgement, start the process early. Schools often distribute financial aid to eligible students on a first-come-first-served basis, so the possibility exists that your Professional Judgement will be approved but the school no longer has sufficient funds to provide you with increased financial assistance.
You will need to request a Professional Judgement from each school individually. In addition, you will need to request a Professional Judgement for every year that your parent is enrolled in school. You can request a Professional Judgement mid-way through a school year if necessary, although a school may not act on the results of a Professional Judgement until the following year, depending on the nature of the circumstances and the school’s available funding. If your Professional Judgement is denied, there is no appeals process.