Question: I was emancipated at the age of 15 and have been working and supporting myself since that time. I am 26 now and would like to enroll in college. Will I receive any government or school help because of my early emancipation or am I too old now to have them take that into consideration?
Because you are over age 24, you should qualify for federal and/or school-based assistance. Any student 24+ who meets certain income and academic guidelines (more on these in a minute) will also qualify. The fact that you were emancipated early is not relevant here. It would have been relevant, however, if you’d applied to college before you were 24. At that point, only your own income and assets would have been considered as part of the financial aid process, not your parents’. But the same is true for every student over 24, whether they were previously granted independent status or not.
When you are ready to apply to college, you will complete the FAFSA. (Free application for Federal Student Aid). Your responses to the FAFSA questions will generate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the amount that you should be responsible for paying toward your education. In theory, this amount should stay constant, whether you attend a very pricey school or a less expensive one. Whatever costs are not included in your EFC should be covered by financial aid or loans. You can try an online calculator like this one to get a ballpark sense of your EFC: http://apps.collegeboard.com/fincalc/efc_status.jsp Be sure to have your tax forms handy when you play with it. When asked to chose either “Federal Methodology” or “Institutional Methodology,” choose BOTH. The “Institutional Methodology” is the approximate formula used by colleges that require not only the FAFSA but also the CSS Profile. Once you have a list of colleges you’re considering, you can find out if any of your schools require the PROFILE.
You may also be eligible for merit-based scholarships that come from the colleges themselves. Colleges use merit money to lure the most desirable applicants. Often this determination is based on high school GPA and/or SAT (or ACT) scores. However, the fact that you are an older student and may have an interesting story to tell could work in your favor as well.
Another place to look for scholarships is here: www.fastweb.com If you fill out the FastWeb questionnaire, you will be directed to a list of scholarships for which you may be eligible. Some are quite generous (and competitive) and others are less so. Some demand a lot of work (essays, etc.) while others don’t.
Many institutions welcome non-traditional students, who are often more mature and focused than 18-year-olds. Good luck to you as you make your college plans.