Financial Aid in Nontraditional Households

Financial Aid in Nontraditional Households


As college tuition costs rise, so does the number of children living in nontraditional households. According to a 2011 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 25.8% of American children are raised by a single parent, compared to the 14.9% average of the other 27 surveyed industrial countries. Although most single parents are employed, the financial implications of raising a child often put them in a lower income bracket than households with married parents. This can make high tuition costs seem intimidating. However, if you know what to expect while filling out financial aid forms, your family’s unique situation will be accommodated.

Since financial aid is dealt with on a case by case basis, and takes several factors into consideration, there are no blanket statements on federal aid for nontraditional households. However, while specific financial aid figures depend on individual families’ incomes, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) along with the College Board’s CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE takes each student’s family situation into account. Although the PROFILE form is not required by every school, it is a more extensive survey on students’ financial situation that includes a free-form section for explanations of any special circumstances, including family situations that will affect the ability to pay for college. The FAFSA form only requires information on a student’s custodial parent, any financial support they receive from a noncustodial parent, and if they have remarried, their stepparent, while the PROFILE also asks for information on the noncustodial parent. Each state government’s financial aid program handles marital status differently, but you should make any special circumstances known to them as well, to cover all of the bases. Many divorced parents, or parents in the process of obtaining a divorce, may decide amongst themselves how much responsibility each one has in their child’s college education. Since family situations may change at any time, financial aid programs attempt to adjust to each situation.

Arianna, a sophomore criminal justice major at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, New York, said that her financial aid process was made complicated because her parents are unmarried. Although her father does not contribute to her college tuition, she had to answer questions on school financial aid forms about his income, and was denied financial aid from Fordham University because he would not release his tax information. Despite FAFSA and PROFILE aid programs, each school’s financial aid office handles family situations differently, which should be discussed before enrollment. Arianna lives with her aunt and mother, but since her aunt has not legally adopted her, her financial information is not needed by FAFSA. She received offers of merit scholarships from several colleges, in addition to New York State assistance for community service, neither of which is affected by her family situation.

On the federal level, your parents’ marital status is important, but will not decrease your ability to obtain financial aid. In addition to FAFSA, state, and school aid, other scholarships and grants are available for students with single parents or other unique family situations. Keep tabs on your parents’ situation, and how individual schools you’ve applied to will handle it, but also keep an eye out for other forms of financial aid.

Have any more questions about applying to receive financial aid? Let us know in the comments!