If your parents didn’t file their taxes, you may not know where you stand with financial aid. Read on to prepare yourself for options that may benefit you.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the typical form filled out by current and prospective college students in the United States. It is the form that drives and determines many things including financial aid eligibility, grants, scholarships, or work-study. The FAFSA is usually the go-to for applying for financial aid but before filling it out, consider if it’s the best way to apply for aid, depending on your unique situation as a student.
1. File as an independent.
Most students under the age of twenty-four are considered dependent and will need their parents’ tax information, but in some extenuating circumstances, students may be able to file as independent.
For instance, if parents are incarcerated or deceased, a dependency override might be granted. Additionally, if parents were affected by a natural disaster, or if parents’ income falls below $24,000 if filing jointly, you may qualify. If a student has a history of abuse in the home or one or both parents have mental health issues, they can also petition for an override. Letters or documentation will need to be submitted to a college financial aid administrator for any of these varying scenarios, and students may be required to reapply every year.
2. Undocumented students.
Undocumented students are not eligible for federal student aid. This includes Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students. DACA students are undocumented immigrants brought into the United States as children. If you are one of approximately 700,000 young adults who fall into this category, there are some resources available.
Although you are not eligible for federal aid, if you are a DACA student who has a social security number, you can fill out the FAFSA. After filling out the FAFSA, your student aid report (SAR) will have important information regarding your potential need for financial aid. In addition, private scholarships, state, or university funds could be available. In some states, undocumented students are eligible to receive in-state tuition.
3. Lawful permanent residents.
Perhaps you are a permanent resident, but a non-U.S. citizen and your parents live in another country. If you have an unexpired green card, you can apply for federal financial aid. As a permanent resident, your first step is to fill out the FAFSA. Have your eight or nine-digit A-Number ready. This can be found on the front of your permanent resident card. The CSS Profile might be the next step, depending on which college you are applying to. The College Scholarship Service Profile allows students to apply for non-federal financial aid. Hundreds of institutions, including many private colleges, require the CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA.
4. International students.
Financial incentives are often available from universities when international students do not qualify for federal aid. Institutional aid can be given in the form of assistantships or fellowships. Likewise, merit-based scholarships are also advantageous. Perhaps the university of choice has scholarships based on athletic ability, outstanding achievement in the arts, or even high TOEFL (English language skills) test scores. An exceptional academic record is essential as these types of scholarships are very competitive.
Try to go beyond the financial aid office and inquire within the academic department you are interested in. Not all colleges provide institutional aid, and academic departments will have the most up-to-date information. Many schools are committed to finding ways to help students attend and afford college.
When initially thinking about how to pay for college and applying for aid, there are things to consider. If you are a prospective or current college student, there are options for applying for, and obtaining, financial aid in conventional and unconventional ways, even if your parents did not file taxes in the United States. In any case, it’s always a good idea to proactively reach out to your college’s financial aid office directly and communicate questions or concerns.