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Articles / Applying to College / Must Stepdad Shoulder College Costs?

Must Stepdad Shoulder College Costs?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | July 17, 2009

Please help!! I am having trouble getting this question answered. My son will be a senior in high school and is applying to colleges. His father and I are divorced. We are both remarried. I was told that I need to fill out the FAFSA forms since he lives with me. My husband, his stepfather, makes a lot of money. We have always filled joint tax returns. We claim my son every other year. His dad is unemployed. Can I get any kind of financial aid or is my husband going to be responsible for the whole tuition?

I can answer your question but you're not going to like my answer. :( Colleges will look at your household income ... so, unfortunately, this does include your husband's, which may mean that your son doesn't qualify for need-based financial aid. Is this fair? Probably not. In fact, I frequently hear from moms who remarry just a year or two before their kids are ready for college, and even though the marriage is new, the stepdad's income is factored into the aid formula, even if he's already paid for several of his own kids to finish college, and he thought he was finally done!

So, if you don't want your husband to shoulder the burden of your son's college costs, you may want to direct your son toward schools where he is likely to receive merit scholarships. The majority of these are not based on financial need. Obviously, if your son is a very strong student, he will have more merit money opportunities than if he isn't, but even so-so students can often find merit money if they search for it. There are many threads on the College Confidential discussion forum about good places to find merit money. For instance, see: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/financial-aid-scholarships/211927-institutional-merit-based-scholarships-full-tuition.html and http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/financial-aid-scholarships/63770-best-schools-give-most-merit-based-aid.html

Your son should also register at www.fastweb.com, if he has not done so already. It's a free place to find scholarships for which he may be eligible.

Sorry to be the bearer of such bad news!

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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