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Articles / Applying to College / Does "Surrogate Son" Count as Household Member

Jan. 15, 2011

Does "Surrogate Son" Count as Household Member

Question: We have a young man who is our "surrogate child" for lack of a better term. For about a year now, he has lived with us during his breaks when he is not at college and we contribute towards his support by providing him room and board when he is here, buying him some things that he needs for school (computer, school supplies, household furnishings, etc.). He has cut off ties with his mother. When he started college almost two years ago, he applied as a financially independent student because his mother never contributed anything. He has that status. Plus he has SSI. But we do contribute to his support. I don't think he would be considered part of our household for financial aid purposes (isn't the definition whether you contribute 50% or more of support...? We contribute but not 50%) but I want to verify that.

If I'm interpreting your letter correctly, it sounds as if you're in the throes of filling out the FAFSA (and perhaps other financial aid forms) for your own child, while also offering some financial assistance to your "surrogate" son. Is this correct?


If so, as you suspect, you cannot count your surrogate son as an official household member for financial aid purposes. What you should do instead is to write a letter to colleges that explains your situation. Be as specific as you can about the amount you spend on your bonus child. If possible, include documentation (receipts, etc.).

Financial aid officers often have the discretion to factor atypical expenditures into an aid award. However, my financial aid guru (Ann C. Playe, former associate director of admission and financial aid at Smith College) tells me that you should not be optimistic about receiving any breaks from colleges because of these added household responsibilities. Of course, it can’t hurt to try, but my best guess, too, is that most of your pay-back will come in the form of good karma. :)

(posted 1/15/2011)

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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