Divorced Parents, College, and Financial Aid – Part 1: FAFSA Basics

Divorce, College, and Financial Aid

Maybe you are in the beginning stages of your divorce and thinking about college or financial aid is really far down on the list of things you need to figure out. Maybe you have been killing it as co-parents for a while now and suddenly the eldest is studying for their SAT’s and you realize you didn’t really cover college in your divorce agreement. Or maybe you are wondering why I am writing this because it is straight forward, right? No, no it is not. College costs have increased more than 25% in the last ten years and financial aid has gotten more complicated. Here is some information to get you acquainted with the basics of the financial aid process.

It All Starts with FAFSA

Otherwise known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, this is the application and process that collects financial information from the student and their parents that will ultimately provide the SAR, or Student Aid Report. On this report is the magic number – the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is the base combined amount that the student and parents are expected to contribute. It is a very important number that the schools use to determine your aid package, and many factors effect it.

Know Your Deadlines

One thing many do not know is that you can file your FAFSA as early as October 1st the year prior to the student attending school. This means that if you have a high school senior planning on attending college in fall of 2021, you can start filling out your FAFSA now. Only approximately 25% of students apply in October and it matters because many schools are first come, first serve with financial aid. Many states also run out of funds as it gets closer to enrollment. The sooner you apply, the more you may potentially receive.

Which Parent Is Responsible for the FAFSA?

So who fills out the FAFSA? Most parents that complete the FAFSA are married – approximately 70%. Married parents fill it out together. If you are one of the 15% of parents that file that are divorced, it is the custodial parent that completes the FAFSA. FAFSA defines the custodial parent by where the child slept most often in the twelve months prior to filling out the FAFSA.

When filling out your FAFSA, you will list the schools that you want your report sent to. It is important to pay attention to the order in which you list them. The Financial Aid Officers at the schools can see your list of schools, in order, and if you listed a particular school as number six that school may not think you are serious about attending their school. This can translate to less financial aid for your student.

Now that you know the basic terms and the general FAFSA process, stay tuned for Part 2 – how divorce impacts the financial aid process and what you can do to navigate it successfully.