Applying for financial aid in college may often seem like a complicated process, a flurry of paper involving forms, budgets and many steps that must be completed before moving on to the next one.One group of students that may cause extra concern for some universities when deciding who gets financial aid is students with divorced parents.
Mike Scott, the director of scholarships and student financial aid at TCU, said the university has had problems in the past when dealing with divorced families.
“This is the most difficult group we deal with in terms of equity and fairness,” Scott said. “The situations are so varied and so emotional, that finding the means to address the need of these families is fairly complex.”
One of the biggest problems, Scott said, is that some students with divorced parents try to obtain more financial aid by filing their forms using the information of the parent with the lowest income, while others are truthfully coming from a single-parent household and need more financial aid.
“Quite frankly, we see more instances of abuse of the system in this area than any other,” he said. “It’s actually quite sad.”
Recently, however, some universities have adopted a new system for students with divorced parents that may give colleges an advantage when deciding who gets a loan or scholarship.
The system, which was developed by the College Board, a not-for-profit association of high schools and universities aimed at helping students through college, requires students with divorced parents to fill out a new form called the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE.
According to the College Board Web site, a student with divorced parents has his or her non-custodial parent fill out the CSS form so colleges, universities and graduate and professional schools have a more complete picture of the student’s financial situation. The new form may allow financial aid to be distributed more evenly.
The CSS form, however, is used to determine university-sponsored aid only, and not federal aid. Students wanting to apply for federal aid, such as a Pell Grant, must still complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
Colleges currently using the new CSS form include Princeton University, Southern Methodist University and Tulane University.
Peggy Park, a financial aid counselor at SMU, said SMU adopted the new system three years ago.
“The CSS form is administered institutionally,” she said. “Everyone in the family is required to provide their information.”
However, Park said that in some cases the form must be waived due to a non-custodial parent’s unavailability, such as if that parent has no contact with the student or if they are in prison.
Despite the advantages that the CSS form gives to some universities, Scott said, TCU does not use it.
“I am very familiar with [the new system],” he said, “but hesitate to adopt the CSS profile because a processing fee is required.
“I just don’t like the idea of students paying to apply for aid.”
Scott said currently, there are no programs targeted specifically for students with divorced parents.
“Federal regulations require income information from the custodial parent only,” he said. “This usually results in a greater demonstrated financial need.