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FAFSA/CSS - Dependency override

gratefulmamagratefulmama 238 replies6 threads Junior Member
My D’s bff left home from a toxic/abusive situation and has been staying with us since the beginning of October. She’s a senior and I’ve helped guide her through the college app process with the help of the school counselor.

Her parents divorced last year, no contact with the dad whatsoever and her mother is not financially supporting her, although they have had infrequent strained contact. Prior to her staying with us, child protective services and the police came to the school last year to meet with the girl privately. She was also missing a ton of school due to neglect and depression.

The school counselor reached out to her mom to get her to fill out the FAFSA and the mom said she doesn’t have tax returns for the past few years. My understanding is that they are low income, so applying through her mom would have been the best approach. To make matters worse, her mother told me (back in Oct, when the girl first came to stay with us) that she is planning to move out of the country in June!

I’ve researched to see if the girl can apply as a independent but found out quickly that she cannot. However, it looks like she could apply for a dependency override directly with the schools based on her special circumstances. Would anybody have knowledge on the best way to approach this? After all this work applying, it would be a huge disappointment if she can’t go. She’s already been accepted to one school and waiting on several others. All her apps and testing were through fee waivers.

edited December 2019
20 replies
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Replies to: FAFSA/CSS - Dependency override

  • thumper1thumper1 76147 replies3359 threads Senior Member
    Have her contact the colleges...and ask. I’d start with the one where she has gained acceptance.
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  • kelsmomkelsmom 15738 replies99 threads Senior Member
    Each school will need to evaluate her request for a dependency override based on their own policies. From what you have posted, it sounds like it is worth pursuing. The schools will let you know what they want in terms of documentation. Don’t get discouraged if a school doesn’t approve the request ... each school has different policies.

    By the way, she is very fortunate to have you in her life.
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  • gratefulmamagratefulmama 238 replies6 threads Junior Member
    Thank you both! I will contact the first school tomorrow. I’m just wandering if she can fill out the FAFSA and CSS on her own? I believe there’s a part on the FAFSA where she can say she doesn’t have access to her parents info. I’m assuming the schools will want to see that first. Honestly the whole situation is heartbreaking.
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  • thumper1thumper1 76147 replies3359 threads Senior Member
    edited December 2019
    No...at this point I don’t believe she can fill out the FAFSA as an independent student. There are a bunch of questions that trigger independent status, but living with a friends family is not one of them. In addition, she knows where her mom is.

    She isn’t homeless, she isn’t in a legal guardianship, etc.

    She would have to present the facts of her situation to each financial aid department and they would have to determine if she qualifies for a dependency override.

    Thank goodness you are there to help her. But really she needs to ask the colleges.

    Here is another concern...even IF she gets the dependency override and has a $0 EFC, the only guarantees for aid are a $6050 or so Pell Grant and a $5500 federally funded student loan. She would only get more grant aid if it is institutional grant aid...and that would be very school dependent.

    For the Profile, she might also need a non-custodial parent waiver.
    edited December 2019
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  • gratefulmamagratefulmama 238 replies6 threads Junior Member
    Good advice. I will contact the one school today to get a sense of the battle ahead. Thank you!
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 23691 replies17 threads Senior Member
    Is she still 17? If so, is there any hope that she can go into state custody? If the mother is in agreement, it could be done quickly, you can be a "kin" placement (like foster care but you/your home gets a minimal review and certification). Then it is a state guardianship and she can fill as an independent. She'd also get medicaid and maybe other services.

    Her mother doesn't need tax returns just to file the FAFSA. She can manually enter any income. Yes, most likely she would be selected for verification but it would seem the school could override that requirement easier than the entire filing of the FAFSA by the parent. If the mother would cooperate with that by getting a FSA ID and filing the FAFSA, that would get you started. The mom would check the 'did not file' for the taxes but the FAFSA should still process. I know it is hard to explain to the parent that by filing they AREN'T required to pay for college and that the FAFSA people don't talk to the IRS, but if you can get the mother to just fill out the FAFSA that gets the daughter into the FA system. The CSS may be a bridge too far, but try for the FAFSA.
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  • OhioIrish03OhioIrish03 1 replies0 threads New Member
    I've successfully gotten an override for a student before (I am a high school counselor).

    First, she will need to fill out the FAFSA with as much information she can, even if it's only the student section, and submit it to the colleges. It will be submitted incomplete, but that's okay. They need to have it on file to be able to move forward, even if it's not complete.

    Then, she will need to contact the financial aid office at each college separately and ask what their procedure is for a dependency override. The actual paperwork at each school will vary, but usually they will need a statement explaining the circumstances from someone official who knows details - the school counselor would be a good person to write that, perhaps with your help since she has been living with you. The letter will need to explain where she is receiving housing, food, clothing, and any other financial support - none of it can be from her parent(s). Some colleges may have forms with that information to fill out as well.

    Once the information is submitted to each school, it will be up to the individual colleges' financial aid offices to approve or deny it and then put together a new financial aid package for her. So it's possible that one college could approve it and another could deny it - just be prepared for that.

    I have only done it once in my career, and it got approved. It was a student in a similar situation, only he was living with grandparents instead of a friends' family. Living with a friend may make it an even stronger case than I had. The whole process was surprisingly smooth though, and he ended up getting a full financial aid package from a private college.

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  • gratefulmamagratefulmama 238 replies6 threads Junior Member
    Thank you! Do you know if a ‘kin placement’ is the same as a legal guardianship? We are going to talk to someone this weekend about the possibility of becoming her legal guardians but not sure it can be done quickly enough.

    I spoke to the school college counselor who recommended I wait to contact the college. She believes the girl can file the FAFSA without the parent with documentation from the school that she is essentially homeless. (Not sure abt that based on what I’ve read.) In the meantime, we will talk to a family friend that specializes in family law this weekend and see if they can’t guide us on the best way to move forward. I never anticipated becoming a legal guardian. She is 17 and won’t turn 18 until next October.
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  • gratefulmamagratefulmama 238 replies6 threads Junior Member
    The mother seems to be hiding something and will not cooperate. She told the school that her accountant “lost” the tax records, which is bs since they can easily be retrieved online (if they were even filed). Whatever her concern may be, the school cannot get through to her and she has washed her hands of any responsibility. I anticipate we have to move forward without her help.
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  • sybbie719sybbie719 20822 replies2023 threads Super Moderator
    My D’s bff left home from a toxic/abusive situation and has been staying with us since the beginning of October. She’s a senior and I’ve helped guide her through the college app process with the help of the school counselor.

    To make matters worse, her mother told me (back in Oct, when the girl first came to stay with us) that she is planning to move out of the country in June!

    Based on what you have written, it may be hard for her to obtain a dependency override.

    BFF knows where her mother is and her mother knows that BFF is staying with you If the child is under-aged, the fact that mom did not call the authorities on you implies that she is giving consent to stay at your house since BFF was not removed from her home and she is not an unaccompanied minor.

    The most common reasons for a dependency override are:

    an abusive family environment (e.g., sexual, physical, or mental abuse or other forms of domestic violence)
    abandonment by parents
    incarceration or institutionalization of both parents
    parents lacking the physical or mental capacity to raise the child
    parents whereabouts unknown or parents cannot be located
    parents hospitalized for an extended period
    an unsuitable household (e.g., child removed from the household and placed in foster care)
    married student's spouse dies or student gets divorced

    What would be her basis for an override? Is there anything that has been documented this school year? Is children's services involved with the family? Is there a no-contact order between the parent and the child?
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  • gratefulmamagratefulmama 238 replies6 threads Junior Member
    @OhioIrish03 - Thank you so much for your encouragement. I believe that is the exact approach the counselor has in mind but I’ve had concerns that it will work. Good to hear a success story.

    @sybbie719 - Child Services and the police came to the school last spring. I don’t know if the school has records of their visit but they are definitely aware the visits took place. From what I understand the father was abusive. Since he’s been out of the picture (early Feb), the mother began leaving this girl alone to care for two younger elementary aged siblings for days at a time without supervision or help, money to last 3 days for food but wouldn’t return for 5! Neglect. The school has documented proof of missed days and meetings with the mother. The mother does know where she is but hasn’t provided any financial support nor has she tried to get her back. Special circumstance say she would qualify if she left an abusive home and I believe there is definite proof of that. What is unclear is how the colleges will evaluate the situation since she’s only been living with us for two months so far. However, documentation to the abusive living situation goes back a year.
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  • kelsmomkelsmom 15738 replies99 threads Senior Member
    edited December 2019
    I have worked in financial aid & have done many dependency overrides. I believe this student has a good chance of getting an override, at least at some schools. I worked at a public U, and we believed that situations like you describe warranted dependency overrides, as long as documentation was provided.

    She can complete the FAFSA without parent info, checking the box that says she can't obtain it. There will be no EFC generated, but the FAFSA will go to the schools. She will then need to reach out to each school.

    I am not sure how it works with CSS Profile, though.

    The point of dependency overrides is to assist students just like the one you describe. Schools will request quite a bit of info, and they are supposed to re-request each year (in case something changes), but it pays off in that it allows the student to receive aid. I wish you the best! Feel free to PM me if you have questions at any point in the process.
    edited December 2019
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  • gratefulmamagratefulmama 238 replies6 threads Junior Member
    @kelsmom Thank you for your encouragement! These success stories bring me to tears. I may just PM you when we get to that stage. She absolutely has to have the FAFSA done for one school by January 15. We have a few weeks until then to figure out her best approach but it is looking like she will have to go through the way you described and then proceed with the override application. I just hope it will be successful.
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  • gratefulmamagratefulmama 238 replies6 threads Junior Member
    @kelsmom - One question now, do you think it would be beneficial to her case if we seek legal guardianship? I understand legal guardians are not responsible for college tuition but I’m wondering if the status will further validate her application, along with the other documentation described. Would you know?
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  • thumper1thumper1 76147 replies3359 threads Senior Member
    Are the colleges she is applying to ones where she will receive full rides if she has a $0 EFC?

    With a $0 EFC, the only guarantees are the full Pell (most over $6000) and the $5500 Direct Loan. Will the colleges she is applying to be affordable with $11500 in student aid?

    Are her SAT or ACT and GPA sufficiently high that she could garner very significant need based aid at the very generous competitive for admissions colleges that have them?

    Does your state have any aid options for students in her shoes?

    In addition to the possibility of a dependency override (which I agree you should ask about at each college), you also need to help her find affordable options given the aid she might receive. That is an important piece.

    Good luck to her...and you as you help her navigate this process.

    Just wondering....where are the younger siblings?
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  • sybbie719sybbie719 20822 replies2023 threads Super Moderator
    @gratefulmama sent you a pm
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 23691 replies17 threads Senior Member
    One question now, do you think it would be beneficial to her case if we seek legal guardianship?

    If the state takes legal guardianship (but you could have physical guardianship), there is a question on the FAFSA about the state being the legal guardian. That would make her an independent for FAFSA and just avoids the issue of the override.

    In my state, a child can be a foster child until age 23 (even if she lives independently). It gets them medicaid, other services, and just some supervision for those extra years. I'm not sure but I think they have to go into state custody before they are 18. There are a few programs to help with additional funds for college/tech school.
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  • BelknapPointBelknapPoint 4699 replies17 threads Senior Member
    If the state takes legal guardianship (but you could have physical guardianship), there is a question on the FAFSA about the state being the legal guardian. That would make her an independent for FAFSA and just avoids the issue of the override.

    Someone other than the student's parent or stepparent having legal guardianship would also make her an independent for FAFSA (the legal guardianship does not have to be held by the state).
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  • gratefulmamagratefulmama 238 replies6 threads Junior Member
    @thumper1 - You bring up great questions that I don't have the answers to. I know one of the schools she applied to covers 100% need but I don't know abt the rest. Most are public schools in CA. I figured she would need to take out some loans and she knows that but we will have to look at each acceptance individually and see how much. Plan B, will be a cc and live here but she needed to explore her other options first. Surprisingly she has a great GPA, test scores not so good but hasn't been in a position to get test prep or mentally prepared. The one school that covers full need, is test optional, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for her.

    The younger siblings are still with the mother. She can't leave them alone for days like she did with this one, so I have no idea what she has worked out.

    @twoinanddone - thank you. I will look into that. What state are you in? We are in CA. We are speaking with a family attorney on Saturday.

    @BelknapPoint - Good to know too.

    Thank you all so much. I will speak with the attorney (family friend) on Saturday and see what makes the most sense. I will post updates through the process in case anyone else runs into a similar wacky situation.....
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  • mommdcmommdc 11678 replies31 threads Senior Member
    Yes, she needs to have some instate public schools on her list where she could get Pell Grant, Calgrant and her student loan to cover costs. They only require FAFSA, not CSS profile.
    In commuting distance if necessary.

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