Financial Aid

Another Round of Financial Aid FAQs

Learn how to report joint accounts, what to do if a parent is also in school, how schools consider your cost of living, and when to submit financial aid applications.
Father and daughter using computer

Financial aid season is in full swing, and we have received plenty of new questions from students and families completing their financial aid applications (most notable the FAFSA® and CSS Profile®). If one family has a question, it's likely that others are wondering the same thing, so we're sharing answers below that we hope will benefit many. 

How do we report joint accounts on the financial aid applications?

If both the parent and student's names are on an asset account, report the value of the account on the financial aid application under the person's name who receives the 1099 and reports the account's interest on his or her tax return. This is often the parent.

What if a parent is in school the same time as a student?

Parents don't count as students when reporting the number of people in the family attending college, and regardless, there's usually no advantage in the financial aid process if you have more than one person in the family pursuing a college degree. However, you can write a note to the financial aid offices letting them know of this extra expense, along with an estimate of what your family is spending for that parent's classes, as the college could consider taking it into consideration when calculating the student's financial aid offer.

Can I apply for financial aid from MA if I go to college out of state?

There's a limited amount of financial aid available from Massachusetts, and most of it requires the student to attend a college in the state. As an exception, the MASSGrant, a need-based grant for full-time students, can be used at colleges in Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC. Simply fill out the FAFSA to apply.

How does your cost of living get considered by colleges in the financial aid process (it's more expensive in some parts of the country)?

Colleges that only collect the FAFSA do not treat students differently in the financial aid process based on the city or state in which they live. Schools that collect the CSS Profile, however, often do consider cost of living based on the student's zip code, with a higher allowance given to students who live in more expensive areas of the country. If your cost of living is high, contact the financial aid office to see if they can consider that fact when determining your financial aid offer.

I'm divorced and my daughter lives with me. She has visits with my ex-husband, her father. Who submits a FAFSA?

If you're a divorced family applying for financial aid, the parent who provided more financial support in the previous 12 months for the student (not necessarily the parent the student lives with) should submit the FAFSA with the student. The other parent does not fill out anything in regards to the FAFSA. However, if the student is applying to a school that requires the CSS Profile, the school may require the other parent (referred to as the noncustodial parent) to complete a separate CSS Profile. Check in with the financial aid office to find out what's required.

My grandmother is my legal guardian, though my parents are still alive. Whose information do I list on the financial aid applications?

If you're under legal guardianship, you'll be considered what's called an independent student on the FAFSA, and won't be required to list the information of your parents or legal guardian. However, the CSS Profile will require you to provide the financial and household information for your legal guardian as if he or she were your parent.

How do I report a 529 plan on the financial aid applications?

Most families with 529 plans designate the parent as the owner and the student as the beneficiary. If this is the case in your family, report the 529 plan as an asset (investment) of the parent. Even though the asset will be used for the student's college costs, it's still reported as a parent asset. You should only report the 529 plan(s) you have for the student applicant, not the 529 plans for any other children.

Do I need to report last year's financial aid on the applications?

A very small percentage of people must include the grants and scholarships they received within their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) on their tax return (listed specifically on line 1 of their 1040). In that case, your AGI will report your financial aid for you. Otherwise, you don't need to report any financial aid you received. The college will report any work-study the student earned, and the financial aid formula will exclude those work-study earnings from the student's total income when calculating financial aid eligibility (because it assumes those funds were already spent on college costs).

Do we wait to submit the financial aid applications until after the admissions applications?

In most cases, no. The financial aid applications typically become available on October 1st each year, so complete them as soon as you're able, as some colleges award financial aid on a first-come first-serve basis. Note that the FAFSA will not be available until December 2023 for families completing the 2024-25 application. If you're not sure of every school to which you're applying when the financial aid applications become available, submit the applications to those schools where you know you'll be sending an admissions application. As you decide on additional schools, you can send the financial aid applications to those as well.