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Articles / Paying for College / Will Colleges Know If I Live with My Mom or My Dad?

April 24, 2020

Will Colleges Know If I Live with My Mom or My Dad?

Question: I am a senior applying to colleges this year. My parents are divorced and share joint custody. For grades 9 through 11, I lived mainly with my mom, but last month I moved in with my father on something of a trial basis. A couple of the colleges on my list require only the FAFSA form, and I've been told that I should put my residence as still being with my mother since she makes a lot less money than my dad does. But will the colleges find out that I'm now living with my father? I haven't changed my address on any school records.

When divorced parents share custody, students are usually advised to list on the FAFSA the name of the parent with whom they reside 51% of the time or more. If the child moves back and forth and lives with each parent pretty evenly, then of course he or she should name the “poorer" parent on the FAFSA because financial aid assessments will be based on that parent's income. (For colleges that require the CSS PROFILE or other institution-specific forms, then both parents' income is usually considered so it doesn't matter where the student claims to live.)


Although you risk some good karma by stating on your FAFSA form that you're domiciled with Mom, it makes sense to maintain that address on your college materials. Presumably you are not changing high schools, and your father lives within a reasonable distance. College folks are apt to raise eyebrows when a student uses the address of a parent whose house is a plane ride away from homeroom ... or even a lengthy commute by car.

Although “The Dean" doesn't promote dishonesty on college documents, I've seen a lot of students in your shoes over the eons who bounce back and forth between parents. So it seems entirely plausible that, if you tell the colleges that you live mainly with your mom, by the time the ink is dry on your applications, perhaps you will.

Written by

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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