Same-Gender Couples and Financial Aid

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Applying for financial aid is one of the more baffling parts of the college application process, and one that often has to be repeated every year, but it can be even more difficult to navigate if your parents are the same gender.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the most important document in the financial aid process, since it is the tool used to calculate demonstrated need for all federal and state financial aid programs, as well as the majority of institutional aid, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Until this year, the FAFSA has not recognized same-gender married couples as legal, since the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) mandated that only marriages between a man and a woman could be recognized by the federal government. (Furthermore, different-gender couples who were not legally married also could not both be considered the parents of one student for the FAFSA.) Though DOMA was repealed last month, the Department of Education had the foresight to decide even earlier that applicants should be able to name both unmarried and same-gender parents and partners as such on the FAFSA.

From applicants for the 2014–15 academic year onward, students will be able to list same-gender parents and partners as members of their households on the FAFSA, even if these relationships are not legally recognized. Depending on each parent’s income and the overall size of the student’s household, this change in policy could have any number of effects on the amount of aid the student would get.

The CSS PROFILE, the next most common form that some institutions use to determine expected family contribution, is not administered by a federal agency. Hence, most of institutions that use the PROFILE have always accepted and will continue to accept unmarried and/or same-gender parents. An indication of this is that the PROFILE provides space for students to enter information about “Parent 1” and “Parent 2,” rather than “Father/Stepfather” and “Mother/Stepmother,” as the FAFSA has until now.

Do you have any more questions about how financial aid works for children of same-gender parents or students with same-gender partners? Ask us in the comment box below or email Joyce at jwu@thecollegiateblog.org!