How to Get Financial Aid for College When Your Parents Make Too Much

 March 31, 2021
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Are you wondering how to get financial aid if your parents make too much? If this question plagues you, you’re not alone.

“It’s definitely something we hear a lot,” Jill Desjean, a policy analyst for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), told Student Loan Hero. “A lot of people make an assumption that [their family earns] too much to apply for financial aid.”

But even if you think your family won’t qualify for financial aid, Desjean said to go ahead and apply. “You can be pleasantly surprised,” she said. To find out why, have a look at the following topics:

How family income affects your financial aid

Sure, income is considered when the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) pumps out the Student Aid Index (SAI), formerly known as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) toward the cost of college. After all, you supply your parents’ tax returns when submitting your FAFSA.

But you might be surprised to learn that no income cutoff determines your eligibility for aid, said Desjean.

A family with a household income of hundreds of thousands of dollars, for example, could be helped by other factors in the FAFSA formula, including school cost and the number of siblings also attending school.

If you still think your parents are rolling in too much dough, consider using either the Federal Student Aid Estimator or your school’s net price calculator. You can find the latter by Googling, “[school name] net price calculator” or by using the Department of Education’s search tool. All colleges and universities are required by the federal government to host the calculator on their websites.

With either tool, you’ll punch in basic information about your family’s finances and immediately see how much aid you might be eligible to receive for your cost of attendance.

How to get financial aid if your parents make too much

If you’ve already learned that your folks are too well off to help you get financial aid, Desjean recommended talking about your situation with your school’s financial aid office. You’ll want to confirm, for example, that the office used accurate information to arrive at your SAI.

“Before that conversation with the financial aid office, I always encourage families to sit back and think about what special circumstances their family might be experiencing that might make them look wealthier on a piece of a paper with a limited number of questions,” Desjean said.

For example, your family might have considerable medical expenses that absorb much of its income and savings.

“That’s not something that there’s a page for on the FAFSA,” Desjean said. “But it certainly is relevant to the family’s ability to pay for college.”

If this is the case for your family, you could seek a professional judgment, also known as an appeal, to your school for more aid. You’ll be required to submit evidence proving your case to be a worthy one.

Examples of special circumstances when negotiating financial aid
● Lost income or change in employment
● Change in marital status or family size
● Death of a spouse or parent
● Parent enrolls in college, full-time
● No longer receiving child support
● New health care costs not covered by insurance
● Experienced a total loss due to a natural disaster

Even if your family doesn’t have exceptional circumstances, there are plenty of other ways to find money for college. You can focus on opportunities that offer awards based on merit, not because of financial aid. Private scholarships and even some state grants might be available because of your academic achievements, no matter your family’s income.

How to pay for college when your family’s wealth isn’t helping

Are you still wondering how to get financial aid if your parents make too much? Maybe that’s because you’re a dependent student who isn’t receiving financial support from your well-off family. Consider that there are plenty of ways to pay for college by yourself.

You can start by taking ownership of the financial aid process and filling out the FAFSA yourself with the appropriate information. Make sure you stay on top of all essential FAFSA deadlines.

Read up on scholarships for…
High school students
Current college students
First-generation students
Asian students
Black students
Latino and Hispanic students
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program students
Minority students
Community service
Military service
Professional development
Single parents
Single moms
Out-of-state students
Studying abroad in Japan
Studying abroad in Canada

If you still have a tuition shortfall after seeking scholarships, grants and other forms of aid, here’s a piece of good news.

“All is not lost if you don’t qualify for financial aid from the school,” Desjean said. “It’s important that families go out and look at other financing options.”

Perhaps a simple solution like a tuition payment plan, which allows you to pay your school dues in smaller installments, could work. If not, it might be time to consider borrowing.

If you must borrow student loans…

As a last resort, student loans could help you bridge the gap in your cost of attendance.

Before rushing to borrow, however, ensure you study up on the differences between federal and private student loans. For example, loans from the federal government come with added protections, including the ability to alter your repayment plan.

Private loans could be cheaper to repay with a creditworthy cosigner. Without mom or dad’s help, however, you might need to find an alternative cosigner.

When shopping around, compare all sorts of lenders — including the federal government, your school, banks and credit unions — to find the best loan for you and your family.

Remember: You have options when it comes to paying for college, even if you feel like your family’s income is a deterrent when it comes to financial aid.

Keep the lines of communication open with your chosen school’s financial aid office, and approach the problem collaboratively to find the best solution for your situation.

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