FAFSA Reform, What I Need

The idea that FAFSA, that application that determines which students get federal aid and how much, has been in the news for the past few years as needing reform. The political leaders all agree that the application process is too long and requires too much information. I vote it needs an even more important reform; the definition of an independent student.

I am between the ages of 18 and 24 and prior to being an adult I was not an orphan or emancipated from my parents’ care. This means to FAFSA that I am a dependent of my parents and that they are responsible for my education.

I am completely independent of my parents, I live in a different state than my them and have been told since I was 12 that I will be paying for college on my own. Every year I file my taxes independent. I make all my own money, I pay all my own bills. I have been doing this since I was 18.

My mother and her husband make “plenty of money” and have enough assets (I find that funny, their debt outstrips their assets) that they should be able to contribute XXXX.XX amount of money to my education and therefore I get no financial aid. My father and his wife on the other hand are poor so I file using him as my “provider.”

The problem with using my father for FAFSA is that it takes him until April to file his taxes – FAFSA opens for applications on February 15th most years. After that it takes anywhere between 2 to 4 months to get him to get me his tax information. Next it takes me about a month to get to a point where I am ready to brave the exhausting task of filing FAFSA. The filing process also includes a phone call to him to make sure that not only do I have his tax info, I can ask him if he got any assistance this year, how many this, how much that ect ect. Sometimes it takes two nights.

THEN when I finally reach the end “Please sign with your electronic PIN” God I hate this part. This is another two-week process. And what happens if you don’t sign with your electronic pin? Well apparently your FAFSA is incomplete and you must re-file. Great. By the time this whole process has happened I am sitting at the beginning of the new school year completely disheartened and desperately upset and unprepared for school. I go through this every year, I have yet to attend college.

I am not the only student forced to be dependent on her parents. I have met countless students who live outside of their parents’ home, often times in another state. Students, or should I say potential students, who work their asses off to provide a life of their own, independent from everyone. Yet when they file FAFSA they must answer that critical question – Are you of 23 years of age or older?

What I need from FAFSA is the option to file independently under the age of 23 or 24. (this number seems to change from year to year… maybe its just the time of year I file?)

So many students and potential students have parents who are unwilling or unable to pay for their child’s education even though FAFSA says that they are financially capable. And there are just as many students whose parents refuse to give up their personal information for the FAFSA application. And who can blame them? Filing FAFSA is like being interrogated by the Green Beret… even once you give up the information you don’t go free.

And the issue goes beyond financial aid. If a student doesn’t file for FAFSA then that student is not eligible for a student loan. If that same student does file and finds that she needs $XXXX.XX to finish the year, oddly, she can’t get the loan on her own, she needs to have her parents co-sign.

What if the parents refuse to provide information for FAFSA. Like hell those parents would co-sign a loan. Perhaps the parents’ credit is worse than the non existent credit of the student. What then? Scholarships?.. Hmm, still need to have filed FAFSA.

The lawmakers and Congress people are right. We need FAFSA reform, starting with the first question. “Are you financially independent from your parent or guardian?” Lets start the movement now, let’s get ourselves and our future generations educated.

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