Issues Surrounding Parent Refusal to Contribute to College Costs (via Vox and

    What happens if your parents aren't helping out with college costs? Your financial aid package isn't likely to be more generous.

What happens if your parents aren’t helping out with college costs? Your financial aid package isn’t likely to be more generous.

Libby Nelson of Vox put together a wonderful, brief piece on college students, dependent status, parent contributions and financial aid awards. Detailing the complications and frustrations that college student budgets may encounter, it’s a must read for families that can’t contribute to a student’s college education.

In brief, though, Nelson states:

  • In applying for financial aid, the default status of college students under 24 is ‘dependent,’ even if job status or other status might lead us to intuitively believe that the student is actually independent.
  • As a ‘dependent’ for financial aid considerations, the government assumes your family will contribute a certain amount (called EFC–expected family contribution). That EFC reduces the calculation of a student’s financial need, therefore decreasing a student’s potential financial aid award.
  • Crucially, however, even if a student’s family isn’t actually contributing that amount, the student’s financial need is still reduced by his/her EFC.
  • There are only seven ways for a student to become independent: get married; have kids; get married; be a veteran or an active duty member of the US Military; be homeless or at risk of becoming homeless; have been in foster care; an orphan or a ward of the court after age 13; be an emancipated minor; or, if all the above fail, convince the college’s financial aid office to override ‘dependent’ status–a rare occurrence.

This is a real concern, of course. As was stated by Libby Nelson, Discover student loans recently released a report that stated 16% of parents don’t plan to help out their college student with their college finances. This is certainly an outdated system of which parents and students must be aware of before pursuing their college of choice.

Are you one of these students? After reading the Vox piece, your next must-read is on It lays out multiple scenarios of students whose parents refuse to pay for college and possible next steps. It elaborates on the nature of the parental responsibility to pay for school and how it forms the rationale behind the EFC. Importantly, it also deals with complicated issues that the Vox piece doesn’t consider, including ‘what if my parents refuse to help me fill out the FAFSA forms?’ It discusses how to talk to parents about contributions to a college education. And, lastly, its basic ‘next steps’ section should lead students to the correct on-campus offices and persons who may be able to help. [in this regard, this College Board article is also helpful]