Divorced parent situations are common situations that get asked about on these forums. It is also a situation where many students and parents make mistakes in assumptions about financial aid or use of net price calculators, resulting in disappointment when financial aid letters arrive.
Q1: What do all of these terms mean?
A1: Some common terms:
- Custodial parent (CP): the parent the student lives with most of the time.
- Noncustodial parent (NCP): the parent the student does not live with most of the time.
- Net price calculator (NPC): a tool on each college's web site to estimate financial aid. It is not a guarantee of financial aid, and some colleges' NPCs are more accurate than others'.
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): financial aid form for federal student aid (Pell grants, direct loans, federal work study). Uses only the CP household financial information.
- CSS Profile: supplemental financial aid form required by many colleges for their financial aid.
- CSS Noncustodial Profile: supplemental financial aid form for the NCP required by many colleges for their financial aid if the parents are divorced.
Q2: Can the student get financial aid if my parents are divorced?
A2: Federal aid using the FAFSA is based on your CP household.
Colleges’ own financial aid may or may not require cooperation of your NCP as well as your CP. Each college has its own policy (which may have special conditions that vary from college to college, such as whether the NCP information is needed if the CP has remarried), so you need to carefully check the financial aid web site of each college to see whether the NCP information is needed. If it is needed, the college will require a supplemental form for the NCP (usually the CSS Noncustodial Profile, but sometimes its own form); check for this in the college’s financial aid web site.
A list of colleges and scholarships using the CSS Profile can be found at https://profile.collegeboard.org/profile/ppi/participatingInstitutions.aspx . The third column of yes/no answers lists whether the CSS Noncustodial Profile is required. However, this information should be verified on the college’s own financial aid web site, since some entries on the list may be incorrect, not reflect recent changes, or not consider some college-specific policies about whether the CSS Noncustodial Profile is required. Also, some colleges use their own supplemental forms instead of CSS Profile and may require NCP information.
Q3: The NCP is not cooperative with financial aid forms, or will not pay despite high income/assets; can the student get a waiver?
A3: The student would have to apply for a waiver at each college that requires the NCP information. However, s/he will not get a waiver if the NCP is merely not cooperative with financial aid (as opposed to other situations listed in the waiver form at https://cssprofile.collegeboard.org/pdf/css-profile-waiver-request-non-custodial-parent.pdf ).
Q4: How do I use a college’s net price calculator (NPC) with divorced parents if the college requires NCP information?
A4: You must include both parents’ financial information in the NPC if you want any chance of it being accurate for a college that requires NCP information (as opposed to getting an overly optimistic estimate if you use only your CP finances). Even then, some colleges’ NPCs are not that accurate anyway for this situation (and the student or parent using the NPC may not have full information about both parents’ finances, resulting in derived inaccuracy). Check for specific instructions on the college’s financial aid web site on how to enter information with divorced parents. If it is not stated, contact the college’s financial aid office directly with your questions.
Q5: The NCP is not cooperative with financial aid forms, or will not pay despite high income/assets; is there any other way of getting enough financial aid?
A5: In this case, the college selection must be focused on:
- Colleges that are affordable at list price. Your state of residency may affect how affordable your in-state public universities are at list price.
- Colleges that are affordable with estimated financial aid but do not require NCP information. Your state of residency may affect how good your in-state public universities' financial aid is, and whether they require NCP information. Note: very few of the "good financial aid" private colleges do not require NCP information.
- Colleges that are affordable with merit scholarships. Note that most larger competitive merit scholarships should be considered "reach", even just getting admission to the school is "safety" or "likely". Large enough merit scholarships that are automatic for the student's stats and also assure admission can be considered "safety". Note that many of the most selective private schools do not offer merit scholarships.
Outside merit scholarships are also a possibility, but the larger ones should be considered “reach” for all applicants.