Step-parenting and paying for college - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 01:59 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Hi All,

I'm the step-mom of a wonderful 17-year-old DSD who is currently in the process of applying for college. I'm increasingly afraid that the end of this process is going to be a total disaster and want to see whether any of you have been through this for any BTDT wisdom you may have. I'm tragically the major breadwinner of all of us (DH, DXW and myself) and have only been earning my somewhat respectable salary for about 2-3 years since finishing an advanced degree.

DH makes much less than I do in an industry that has been clobbered by the recession here in MI and DXW makes next to nothing and hasn't eve filed her taxes in many years. My salary is enough to tank DSD's eligibility for need-based financial aid and her scores (pretty good but not stellar) aren't high enough to put her in the running for merit based financial aid. It's sad because she has done amazingly well for having grown up in a very unstable low-income situation (Bio-mom has been living on the edge with her own substance abuse issues and an abusive alcoholic boyfriend for years). I feel awful about this. We don't have the money to pay for college and our financial aid application just won't reflect the reality of either her history or our finances (really low till past couple years). DH and DXW aren't prepared to help DSD at all with college costs.

I've been honest with all involved about this and have encouraged DSD to apply to colleges having "a range of selectivity and range of costs" and to apply for scholarships. But it looks really grim right now. Any thoughts of how to look at this? I can't and don't think I should foot her whole bill. She's wonderful and I can and will help....but the bill is going to be large wherever.
I'd be tremendously appreciative of any thoughts any of you may have on this. TIA!

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#2 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 02:19 PM
 
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Student loans...


Honestly, my parents didn't pay for my education, nor any of my sisters. The qualification to get government aide is a joke. My parents had no extra money to pay for us, but we still got denied.

My youngest sister is very brilliant and did get some scholorships, but nothing to cover much.

She has student loans, as did I, as does my middle sister too.

It's not the end of the world, but honestly... with the economy the way it is and the unrealistic numbers the government comes up with to qualify for anything... everyone I know has to get loans. Good thing about student loans is you don't have to pay on them while in school and they are really flexible if you need to defer or get a forebearance due to different circumstances. For instance my student loan is currently deffered another year because I'm having a baby.

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#3 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 02:24 PM
 
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If the ex-wife is the custodial parent (or you say she is for college purposes), I believe that her income and your husband's income only need to be included.

My parents are separated or divorced. Which parent is responsible for filling out the FAFSA?
If your parents are separated or divorced, the custodial parent is responsible for filling out the FAFSA. The custodial parent is the parent with whom you lived the most during the past 12 months. Note that this is not necessarily the same as the parent who has legal custody.

http://www.easyaid.com/financial_aid_faq.html

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#4 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 03:04 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Ooops...should have been clearer. We're the custodial parents and DXW lives many thousands of miles away in another state. DSD wants to go to our state university as an in-state student (out-of-state tuition is obscenely high). Hasn't lived with mom in 4 years (summer visits only). Mom has already said that she won't provide any money or information.

I appreciate your point about loans. I'm just afraid that she'll end up with huge amounts of loans even if she goes to our state university (one of the most expensive in the country. Sigh....). Might end up needing to do a year or two at community colleges to make this work out in a sane way for her (love community college...no slight intended). DSD's just had so much instability in her life that I'd really like her to be able to do 4 years in a single nurturing environment where she could put down roots and thrive. She bounced around through elementary and junior high schools and has only recently started coming into her own.

Thanks so much for the responses. I'm also thinking about having some conversations with financial aid officers after she's accepted.
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#5 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 03:17 PM
 
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I understand.

And it sucks knowing our kids will be immediately in debt... and I wish there was someway around it... but I honestly don't see an end to that anytime soon with the way our economy is and the with college fees going up every year, but not salaries.

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#6 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 03:56 PM
 
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Living at home for 2 more years and going to community college would probably be the most economical for everyone. Maybe her dad and mom will have improved finances in 2 years....
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#7 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 04:05 PM
 
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Community college for the first two years and living at home should let her graduate with only a slightly nauseating amount of student loans. As expensive as University has gotten I can't see a good reason not to do Community college for as many credits as possible.
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#8 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 04:06 PM
 
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If you haven't adopted her, are you sure your income would be included on a financial aid form? I don't know jack about this subject, but that just popped into my head.
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#9 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 04:07 PM
 
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Get thee to see a financial aid counselor! They can let you know the ins and outs of this.

Don't exclude smaller private schools. My niece and nephew both ended up at smaller private schools and it's costing my sister and BIL less than if the kids went to the state school. The financial aid packages at some schools can be awesome. AND they want kids from a range of backgrounds.

The other thing is to figure out what she wants to do/major in. For a lot of things, community college is a great start - you get smaller classes, more dedicated teachers for your general requirements. Then transferring to a 4 year school to finish is a good fit. I teach at a 4 year school where most of our undergrads come from community college, and generally, they're fine.

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#10 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 04:24 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Go_to_Bed! View Post
If you haven't adopted her, are you sure your income would be included on a financial aid form? I don't know jack about this subject, but that just popped into my head.
The total family income of the CP is considered for need based aid. That would include Dad, SM, and the student's income. If there are any others living in the home (like Grandparents, ect), their incomes would also be taken into consideration.

I second community college for a few years. She'll get the basics completed for minimal money and she can save $ by living at home. Be sure she understands the requirements for transfer to the various colleges she'll be considering so she can work within those guidelines.

Another thought is that she can take the boatload of student loans and dad (or you and dad if you are so inclined) can help her pay them off in a few years.
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#11 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 04:42 PM
 
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Definitely have her talk to the counselor at her school about this. They can usually help with the financial aid forms. I know that I sent mine in without doing this and it ended up causing huge delays because I made mistakes.

It seems unfair that a step-parent's income would be counted. I know it asks for it on the form, but it also asks to separate out the mother's and father's income... Do they really expect step-parents to pay for schooling?

All I know is that my income is totally irrelevant when it comes to child support, and that I have no legal responsibility toward DSD whatsoever. It seems contradictory for student aid to have different rules.

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#12 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 04:50 PM
 
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I too would recommend she also look at smaller private colleges. Sometimes they are much freer with both merit- and need-based aid. And are much more open to discussing your situation with you. I went to one myself because they were generous with the financial aid. And they were also open to changing your package if something unexpected happened. they increased the aid of a friend of mine when his parents had unexpected medical expenses and just couldn't make the tuition payment our senior year, and they increased my aid when my parents got divorced, even though I already had a generous package.
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#13 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 05:07 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks so much for all of the comments and support. She is applying to small liberal arts college for the most part (only exceptions being two of our state schools). She's half Chinese and will fortunately be able to add to the diversity of some of the almost 100% white small Midwest colleges that she's applying to. I just freaked out over the weekend when she got an "early parent financial aid estimator" letter from one small school that we'd been hoping would come through that had us down for an absolutely huge parent contribution even after including an estimate for merit-based financial aid (which she's well qualified for at this particular school).

Yes, they do count & consider the step-parent's income when making financial aid decisions. I was so incredibly bummed when I discovered this. I'm actually on faculty at the state university that she wants to attend--- that gives absolutely no tuition break whatsoever to the children of faculty and staff (many do).

We'll continuing taking this all one step at a time. My mantra for the next several months. I feel like we're covering all our bases. Just a tough time given the economy and one of the largest senior classes in US history.

Thanks again!

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#14 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 06:36 PM
 
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Are you and her dad married? I believe they only count step-parents' income if you are married - one thing to think about. But may be too late

Loans for a dependent undergrad aren't even going to cut it anyways as far as I can tell. Even as an independent student, my loans barely covered expenses at a city college. I would really try to figure out if there's a way to disqualify your income. For ex., can she emancipate herself since her mom refuses (?) to support her or can't? Can her mom be legally required to submit financial info? Is there a way to appeal the inclusion of your income? Perhaps if you document a refusal to pay? Colleges really suck about this stuff - it's pretty terrible. I'm so sorry and good luck.
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#15 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 06:39 PM
 
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Maybe she can work for year, then your income shouldn't count.

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#16 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 06:45 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Are you and her dad married? I believe they only count step-parents' income if you are married - one thing to think about. But may be too late
Ha Ha.... DH proposed to me when I needed major dental work and had no dental insurance (he's a romantic guy ). Maybe we'lll divorce so that DSD can go to college without incurring 50k+ or more in debt.... Marry for health insurance, divorce for tuition and board...Life in the US in 2008...Sigh... Time for Change.
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#17 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 08:22 PM
 
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That sucks that they don't give her a tuition break. Dh and his ex both work at a state university, and so the boys will get 75% off tuition. My dd will get 50% off.
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#18 of 45 Old 10-27-2008, 08:49 PM
 
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When she turns 23 she will not be required to include her parents income on FAFSA forms. But I bet you are hoping she will be graduated by then.

Finantual aid can be tricky. I was out of my parents house at the age of 16 and still had to hunt down my dad and step mom to fill out those forms. I paid for my community college out of my own pocket because my dad who had not provided for me in any way made too much money. I was constantly in the fin aid office trying to explain this to them. I was filing for my own taxes as independant before I left high school. <sigh>

Good Luck!
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#19 of 45 Old 10-28-2008, 09:49 AM
 
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Also remember that financial aid packages, especially from private schools, are just their first offer. You should always appeal and describe any special circumstances you or your SD may have. I did this every year for my kids and always got at least an additional $1000 in grant aid. Obviously this won't help if the school is $10,000+ out of your range, but if you get an offer that is not quite enough, it is worth trying to negotiate.

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#20 of 45 Old 10-28-2008, 10:24 AM
 
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When she turns 23 she will not be required to include her parents income on FAFSA forms. But I bet you are hoping she will be graduated by then.

Finantual aid can be tricky. I was out of my parents house at the age of 16 and still had to hunt down my dad and step mom to fill out those forms. I paid for my community college out of my own pocket because my dad who had not provided for me in any way made too much money. I was constantly in the fin aid office trying to explain this to them. I was filing for my own taxes as independant before I left high school. <sigh>

Good Luck!
Someone at the college should have filed the proper independant paperwork for you. As long as you were not getting medical insurance from a parent, your own taxes and proof of rent would have qualified you. I used to work in admissions at the University here and we were able to work with the FA office to do this for quite a few people
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#21 of 45 Old 10-28-2008, 10:44 AM
 
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No advice from me. I know I will be footing the bill for my DSD's education because I should be done with school and the breadwinner by that time. But I'll have been in her life for 16 years at that point, and DH and I don't keep separate finances, so I have no problem paying for her college. DH and I are going into it expecting that her mom won't pay for any of it, so it will be us and student loans.

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#22 of 45 Old 10-28-2008, 10:53 AM
 
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Someone at the college should have filed the proper independant paperwork for you. As long as you were not getting medical insurance from a parent, your own taxes and proof of rent would have qualified you. I used to work in admissions at the University here and we were able to work with the FA office to do this for quite a few people

I tried this when I went and they gave me a form, and the only way to qualify for independence was to be a veteran in the army, be married, or have a child... I had none of the above at the time, and was 22 so had to get my parents info. They didn't care that my parents weren't giving me a dime. Most colleges say if they didn't have guidelines then all students would be trying to claim independence and get more aide.

The system is BAD.

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#23 of 45 Old 10-28-2008, 03:26 PM
 
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Honestly? I went to a smaller state school in your state, and got full ride on a LEADERSHIP scholarship. They only marginally looked at my grades, more at my community involvement. I sat in on several "identical" classes at UofM and State, and BOY, was I getting a better education!!!! I would very emphatically suggest that she look at the smaller state colleges, even if it's only for the first two years, or yes, even at the community college in your area for the pre-recs for the major she plans to delcare. She will get EASILY as good an education, and she can still GRADUATE from the larger school later on (and pay two or three times the credit hours while she does it, all for the name). And quite honestly...if she has a history of substance abuse in the family, I would also strongly STRONGLY suggest that she stay home the first two years, just to gain that little bit of maturity that comes with the extra years under her belt. Both State and UofM have huge party scenes. I was not a drinker, was always the DD for my friends, but honestly saw things that would have curled my mother's toes...because we have STRONG levels of substance abuse in our family. That's just a personal aside and I know it wasn't asked for, so forgive me if I've overstepped.

What I would do is this: sit down and figure out how much total you can afford to give her a year. Do the homework and figure out how much two years would cost at the community college, how much it would cost at a smaller university, and how much it would cost at the large university. Then show her how much you can help, the interest on school loans, and how much she'd be paying a month if she went to each school. Sometimes the stark reality of it all does a lot to help her decide where to go. I would also look at the cost of books for the classes she wants to take the first few years at the big university and the community college...It isn't "fun" to say you're going to the smaller less "prestigious" school...but it sure is a heck of a lot easier on the other end of the four or five years of school!!

I had really great grades in college, and almost transferred to UofM half way through, with a scholarship...but then realized that my education was actually better (real professors teaching ALL the classes, even the large ones) where I WAS.

Good luck.

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#24 of 45 Old 10-28-2008, 06:03 PM
 
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If you want to help with the cost but don't want to foot the bill up front, you could just take responsibility for all or part of repayment of her student loans. You won't get the tax break for the interest on the loans (she will), and ultimately she would still be responsible for them should you decide not to. You can set it up as an automatic monthly payment so you don't have to worry about giving money to her to pay for them each month.

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#25 of 45 Old 10-28-2008, 06:55 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Wow! Thanks everyone! Very helpful.

I've got all the costs for a range of colleges that she/I would like her to consider entered into an Excel spreadsheet. It's just so incredibly hard to know what kind of offers she's going to get/I'll be able to negotiate from the small liberal arts colleges. My friends' and my own experience years ago underscore just how varied these offers can be....even for institutions having very comparable total costs. I'm just going to continue my range of selectivity and range of costs application approach. She's increasingly receptive...we were both totally freaked out by an early estimate of expected family contribution (EFC) that we received from one small liberal arts college late last week. Yikes!

DSD knows exactly how I feel about the typical undergrad experience at U of M. While I didn't do my undergrad degree there, I'm currently affiliated and have seen just what this experience can look like. To her credit, she only wants to go if she gets into the residential college program. I fear that she'd get totally lost in the crowds otherwise. U of M is also totally awful vis a vis undergrad financial aid of any kind (unless you're going into something like engineering and have excellent scores and grades).

I've been encouraging her to look more closely at Michigan's other public universities. She's finally more receptive to the idea of looking at Grand Valley State and a couple of others. I'm going to keep pushing this. I agree that she'd have a better experience there than at U of M or MSU.

The other missing piece in our college financial equation is probable help from her maternal grandfather (DXW's Dad). She's the only grandchild and he's a retired college professor and is committed to helping her...we just have absolutely no idea of how much to expect. He actually started discussing this with me during a visit several months ago and abruptly stopped the conversation when DSD and DH joined us. He did tell me that he's not comfortable discussing this with either DH or DXW (sigh...). I thoroughly dislike the triangulation/secrecy so must admit that I haven't tried to pursue this conversation with him again (he lives several hours away). I think I need to bite the bullet and go down with DSD for a visit and conversation. Ironically, I have an exceptionally good relationship with dear father of ex-wife (DXFIL??).

Thanks again for all of the responses. I feel much better. This is such a tough time to be applying to college.
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#26 of 45 Old 11-24-2008, 11:25 PM
 
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Honestly? I went to a smaller state school in your state, and got full ride on a LEADERSHIP scholarship. They only marginally looked at my grades, more at my community involvement. I sat in on several "identical" classes at UofM and State, and BOY, was I getting a better education!!!!
I second the suggestion very strongly. I am a professor of one of those small state schools, and I went to grad school at U of M. (Hint: We have a strong football rivalry with GVSU.) Your daughter can get a better education at a small state school than at U of M. It all depends on what she makes of herself, and she sounds like an exceptionally strong young woman. I've had many students tell me that they went to U of M or MSU, and they didn't like it, so they transferred here and they liked it much better. One student complained of enormous class sizes and never got to meet their professors at the big university, and these are very good students. Our dorms are probably the nicest in the state. (I'm certain that GVSU, which also has recently experienced an equally amazing expansion, has very nice facilities and fun dorm life.) Please encourage your daughter to at least visit the smaller state schools. To be honest, it's graduate school where the name of the school really matters (not undergrad), and undergraduates from our small state schools get so much individualized attention from their professors, that their professors are able to write very knowlegeable letters of reference. So undergrads at the small state schools do very well in graduate school later on, should they wish to pursue advanced degrees.
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#27 of 45 Old 11-26-2008, 02:14 AM
 
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I also went to a small private liberal arts school and with their aid package, I paid sooo much less than friends that went to state schools. Basically I had one stafford loan a year, and that's it. I had decent grades, but not amazing grades.

It's crazy to think about all the things I'm not supposed to do as the stepparent, and my income isn't counted for him in child support issues, but I've also heard that colleges look at the custodial household income and I'm the "breadwinner."
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#28 of 45 Old 11-28-2008, 02:14 PM
 
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It sounds to me like you're doing all the right things - making a spreadsheet, planning a talk with EXFIL. You can't know until all the letters are in what your starting point truly is, and then you need to to go talk to a financial aid counselor in person and explain your situation. You won't get them to change their income-calculating policy, but you can probably get them to arrange a loan package for your dsd that reflects a EFC based only on her father's salary. I had some friends who went through this with dadbeat biodads who refused to contribute anything to their college, and they did not have any problem getting extra loans (although nothing, including "I haven't seen that jerk for 16 years and I hope I never do again," would persuade them not to include that income in their initial calculations). It may be that dsd can get loans to cover tuition and housing, and then EXFIL can contribute to the other expenses (books, phone bill, travel, etc.), and you and dh can work on getting yourself in a position to help pay back those loans once dsd garduates.

Also, will your dh's financial commitment to his ex end when dsd turns 18? If not, can he appeal the current amount you pay since his income has been drastically reduced by the economic downturn? Obviously, whatever extra money you have beyond your own living expenses should be going to help dsd (or save for your retirement, or save for future kids' college expenses), not to support your husband's ex.
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#29 of 45 Old 01-02-2009, 06:55 PM
 
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Hi, I am a Financial Aid Counselor : )
If you want to pm me, I'll answer your questions to the best of my ability.
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#30 of 45 Old 01-02-2009, 06:58 PM
 
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Location: Southern California
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Originally Posted by mommyto3girls View Post
Someone at the college should have filed the proper independant paperwork for you. As long as you were not getting medical insurance from a parent, your own taxes and proof of rent would have qualified you. I used to work in admissions at the University here and we were able to work with the FA office to do this for quite a few people
Oh by the way....this is no longer the case...dependency status standards are totally different now.
In regards to who reports what info to the school...it depends on if a student is going to a private institution that uses the PROFILE application versus a public school that only uses the FAFSA.
I can answer questions if you pm me.
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