Try the grey stuff, it’s delicious…

Probably like many of you, I grew up watching Disney films. Perhaps, not like many of you, I remember that before the days of DVDs, streaming services and (dare I say it) VHS and Betamax tapes, the only way to see an older Disney movie was when the film was brought back into the theaters. Every couple of years, Disney would re-release a classic film so that a new generation could see it for themselves. There is nothing like seeing the original film on a large screen.

Well, luckily, Disney is doing it again with some of their princess movies in the run up to the Frozen 2 release. Right now, Beauty and the Beast is in theaters, and the film gives us today’s blog post title.

Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!

The “grey stuff” has its place in the world of Financial Aid as well. Often there are situations in a family that just don’t fit within the “rules” established by the Federal government, and a financial aid administrator has to rely upon her Professional Judgment to make a decision about that particular case. In these cases, there is no easy decision, and each aid officer may make a different decision.

No place is this more true than in the case of Dependency Overrides. If you read my last blog entry, we discussed the differences between the standards for dependent and independent students. But sometimes situations fall into the grey.

Imagine a situation where a student lives with his grandparents, but has not legally been adopted by them and they do not have legal guardianship of him. Further imagine that the student is not in contact with his father, and his mother – who lives out of state in a residential substance abuse treatment program – has had a history of mental and/or physical abuse. In this situation while the “rules” would tell us that the student needs mother’s information, it is likely that a financial aid administrator would allow this student to be considered independent.

So how does something like this work if you are a student with an unusual circumstance? It all begins with filing your FAFSA. Even if you are unable to have your parent(s) complete their section of the form, you need to do your sections and when asked if your parents are able / willing to provide information, answer “no”. Your FAFSA will be processed (although it will be considered incomplete until you take the next steps).

You then need to send a letter requesting a dependency override to the college(s) you are considering attending. If you are applying to multiple colleges for admission, send the paperwork to each of them; only one of them will need to complete the override to allow your form to be processed, but the school you ultimately decide to attend will need to make this determination themselves.

What information should you send?

  1. If the college has a Dependency Override form, submit that. Note that many colleges do not have such a form, or do not have it featured on their web page. If you do see such a form (like this example from the University of Central Florida) then complete it and follow the instructions. If you don’t see a form on the college’s web page, then contact the financial aid office and ask if they have such a form. If not they will provide instructions on how to submit this.
  2. Write a letter of special circumstances. In almost every case, the financial aid office will want a letter from you providing information about your situation. This is not the time to withhold information, or be coy. You should provide as much information as possible in your own words as to why you are unable to rely upon parental support.
  3. Provide a letter documenting your circumstances from a third-party. Your case for appeal will be stronger if you can provide a letter from someone in a professional relationship with you. Examples include (but aren’t limited to): a member of the clergy, a therapist, a guidance officer, a lawyer, a faculty member. The letter should be on letterhead, signed and provide contact information for the submitter. It also needs to document the case you are presenting (for example, stating that this individual knows that there has been a history of abuse or neglect). Note that a letter from your relative, friend, roommate, or someone else in a personal relationship with you is usually not acceptable.
  4. Provide whatever additional back-up documentation you can, and the school requests. If the school asks for it, provide any other information you can supporting your request. This may include a copy of a lease, a letter from the person providing you housing, a copy of bill showing a different address from your parents, or any other documentation the school requires.

Note that Dependency Overrides are annual, so you will need to again establish your need for one in each year you are a student (or until you become independent for some other reason).

While this may sound complicated, every financial aid office provides a number of these overrides every year. Don’t let your relationship with your parents (or your lack of one) be a stumbling block to your qualifying for financial aid.

There is one condition, though, where a lack of parental “support” usually doesn’t qualify a student for a waiver, and that is a parent who is simply unwilling to complete the FAFSA. As I said in my earlier post, completing the FAFSA does not “obligate” a parent to pay for college; the FAFSA is simply a way to determine eligibility for financial aid. The Federal Government will not allow an override simply on the basis of unwillingness.

In the case where there is no mitigating situation, and a parent simply won’t cooperate, students do have one final option. If you are in this situation, you can submit your FAFSA without parental information but the only source of aid you will qualify for will be the Unsubsidized Direct Loan. This isn’t a terrible last option (it’s better than paying for college by credit card) but there are matters to consider when borrowing student loans (and we will get into that in a later blog entry).

So, now that you have tried some of the “grey stuff”, tell me — what questions do you have? What Disney movie is your favorite? And what memories do you have of seeing one in the theaters?