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


Wondering how to get financial aid if your parents make too much money? Don’t worry, this is a common question for many students.

The good news is that the Department of Education doesn’t have an official income cutoff to qualify for federal financial aid. So, even if you think your parents’ income is too high, it’s still worth applying (plus, it’s free to apply).

This guide will discuss how your family’s income affects your financial aid package, along with other options for paying for college — specifically…

How family income affects your financial aid

Your family’s income and assets are scrutinized when you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This info then determines your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) toward the cost of college.

But you might be surprised to learn that there are no FAFSA income limits to qualify for aid. For example, a family with a household income of hundreds of thousands of dollars could be helped by other factors in the FAFSA formula, including school costs and the number of siblings also attending school. Basically, there is no set income cutoff for aid.

If you still think your parents are too wealthy to access financial aid, consider using either the Federal Student Aid Estimator or your school’s net price calculator. You can find the latter by searching for “[school name] net price calculator” or using the Department of Education’s search tool. (The federal government requires all colleges and universities to host the net price calculator on their websites.)

With either tool, you’ll enter basic info about your family’s finances to see how much aid you might be eligible to receive based on your school’s cost of attendance.

How to get financial aid if your parents make too much

If you need extra funds for college but have already received notification that your parent’s income prohibits you from receiving financial aid, you can discuss your situation with your school’s financial aid office. You’ll want to confirm that the office used accurate information to arrive at your EFC.

Furthermore, you can mention any extenuating circumstances to your financial aid advisor. For example, your family might have considerable medical expenses that absorb much of its income and savings. Although you can’t enter that specific information on your FAFSA, your school’s financial advisor might be able to help.

You could also 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 is worthy.

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 isn’t experiencing financial hardship, you can explore other ways to find money for college, such as merit-based awards. Private scholarships and even state grants might be available based on your academic achievements, regardless of your family’s income.

How to pay for college as an independent student

While speaking with a financial aid office is a good first step, figuring out how to get financial aid if your parents make too much doesn’t necessarily end there. Maybe you’re a dependent student who isn’t receiving financial support from your well-off family. In that case, know that there are plenty of ways to pay for college by yourself.

For starters, you may be able to file your FAFSA as an independent student, which will essentially ignore your parent’s financial details. Most importantly, make sure to stay on top of the essential FAFSA deadlines.

If you still have a tuition shortfall after seeking scholarships, grants and other forms of aid, you can try a simple solution like a tuition payment plan. This allows you to pay your school dues in smaller installments, which is ideal if you’re paying some of the bill with wages from a college job.

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 the differences between federal student loans and private student loans. For example, federal student loans come with added protections, including the ability to alter your repayment plan.

After maxing out your federal loan options, you can look to private loans to fill any remaining gaps. You might need to find an alternative cosigner if you don’t have parental assistance — still, if you’re able, adding a creditworthy cosigner could unlock more attractive interest rates and terms. (As an alternative, you can ask other family members and friends to donate college funds via the Gift of College or other fundraising platforms.)

Remember: You have options when it comes to paying for college, even if you feel like your family’s income is a deterrent to financial aid. And if you can’t access federal student loans but still need to take out debt to fund your education, make sure to shop around.

Most of all, 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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