The MEFA Institute: Counseling Students with Unique Circumstances in the Financial Aid Process

This webinar provides guidance for school counselors and college access professionals on working with families with unique circumstances throughout the financial aid process. Topics include independent students, undocumented students, nontraditional parent families, and financial aid appeals.

Download the webinar slides to follow along.


Stephanie Wells: There we go. Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Stephanie Wells here from MEFA, and we're excited to offer another webinar in the MEFA Institute for School Counselors. Today's topic that we're going to be discussing with our fine panel is communicating and counseling families, communicating to and counseling families with unique Circumstances in the financial aid process.

So, we are recording today's webinar and will be shared with all registrants that register for this webinar as well as being housed on the MEFA website under the MEFA Institute for the upcoming year. And since this is an hour-long webinar, everybody who is logged in and who watches the webinar, even the recording, will get one PDP point.

So welcome. All right, so feel free if you have questions to type those in the Q and A, we have turned off the chat and everybody is on mute except for our panel. And with that, I am going to introduce myself and then have our panelists all introduce themselves. My name is Stephanie Wells. As I mentioned, I've been at me for almost 24 years anniversary will be in March.

And I'm Director of College Relations here at MEFA. I work with families a lot, doing a lot of presentations, over the phone, counseling, one on one appointments, whatever families need. I'm part of the college planning team at MEFA who can help them through the process. And I'm going to turn it over to our fine panelists.

Kevin, I'll go with you. We'll go in alphabetical order to introduce themselves, as well as mentioned any, you know, I know Carla's worked in some other private schools, so she'll mention that she'll tap into that experience as well when we're answering questions. So, Kevin, you can go first.

Kevin DeRuosi: So, I'm Kevin DeRuosi. I'm the Associate Director of Financial Aid at Salem State University. I've been in, starting I believe my 19th year here at Salem State next month. Prior to Salem State, I was at Bunker Hill Community College doing financial aid for a few years. And prior to that, I was a high school guidance counselor.

Stephanie Wells: I don't think I knew that.

Kevin definitely didn't know that. Great. Thanks, Kevin. And then Carla.

Carla Minchello: Hi, my name is Carla Minchello. I'm the Director of Financial Aid at Wheaton College, and I have been here for just about a year. It'll be one-year next week. But I have been in financial aid 2024 is actually my 30th year. So, I have worked at many different schools, both public and private, but most of my experiences at private institutions and the longest stint was when I worked at Bentley University for 13 years and used the CSS profile there.

Stephanie Wells: Excellent. So, Carla is going to be our profile expert today. And last but not least, Amy. I'm Amy Proietti: Amy Proietti. I know nothing about Profile. I'm also apparently the newbie on the panel. I've been a financial aid for 18 years.

And I did about 15 years of college and university residence halls. Prior to that, that was my start in colleges and universities. I worked in financial aid at UMass Amherst prior to coming to GCC. And the focus of my job here at GCC is really community outreach. I'm actively involved with students and families at all times of year.

Mainly because of the community college environment and how our students present themselves as ready to go to college, which could be in any month of the year and I'm looking forward to being a part of today's session.

Stephanie Wells: Thank you. Thank you all for taking the time to do this. We know that FAFSAs are open and it's underway and in a few weeks, you'll start getting that FAFSA information. So, we're happy to get you in a little bit slower time, the two-week slow time that you might have. I think everybody on the line knows who MEFA is. State authority, self-financing created in 1982 by colleges and universities here in Massachusetts to offer a competitive loan program.

And since then, we've gone on to create savings plans as well as our biggest program, our guidance and outreach for families, school counselors and college administrators. Lots of training and resources are available on MEFA. org. Now, today we're going to focus on unique circumstances that so we can help those students that need a little extra support that might be facing some roadblocks in the system.

So, we're going to focus really on that today. I will tell you that at the end of the webinar, we do have three great webinar recordings that you can sign up to watch because they were live, and we have them on our website about financial aid or one on one for school counselors. One for families about creating an FSA ID, and, um, we have another one about Mass State Financial Aid that, our colleague at OSFA, Clantha McCurdy, did for us, so we have additional resources for you if those topics come up, which they might, so we're going to invite you to watch those webinars as well if we have some questions.

If we get off track, we're really going to try and focus on the unique financial circumstances. So, appeals, how does that process work? Each college is going to talk about their process. How do we identify and help independent students, undocumented students? We have some great mass resources that are coming down the, coming down the pike, so to speak, that are here and readily.

Available now for students who are undocumented in Massachusetts. So, we'll talk about that as well as nontraditional parent families. Students who might be in a legal guardianship or, you know, divorce separated families. And we'll also talk about some of the questions or situations that families have asked to be considered for, some of which schools may consider and some they may not consider.

And some it might depend on the institution and the resources they have available. So, we'll get into those levels of detail. So special circumstances and financial aid appeals, they come about when You know, a family might get their financial aid offer, and it might not, you know, meet their needs, and they might have a situation that isn't incorporated or taken into account, maybe on the FAFSA form, or maybe even in the CSS Profile.

So, they need extra support from colleges to have some extra consideration. So, colleges might be able to use what they call professional judgment to take that consideration into account. So, our panel Today we'll talk about the scenarios and how they deal with each one. Now the decision, because it's professional judgment, is done by an individual college, by an individual financial aid administrator.

So, the decision is final based on that college's resources and policies. So it might be, you know, when we're talking about appeals, special circumstances, I usually tell families to get their financial aid offers in hand if they're a senior in college. I mean in high school, I'm sorry, senior in high school.

And, you know, see which, which colleges the student is really leaning towards, if they've been accepted to. And to really focus on those, you know, small handful of colleges to talk about their special circumstance. There's no need to try and get an appeal for a college that the student is sort of crossed off their list.

So, we do. We do tell families to focus on the schools that the student is narrowed it down to, and then reach out to the financial aid office. We're going to talk about that process. Some of the circumstances and again, we will talk about each one individually that often come into play. Our income changes asset changes.

Usually, families are going to report these to the school. If those numbers have gone down, we don't frequently see in the panel. We'll talk about it. A family who might have won the lottery and they want to report their higher income that will be reported on the following year's FAFSA. But you know, there are unreimbursed medical expenses.

Maybe mom has a young baby that she just gave birth to that wasn't on the FAFSA initially. So, there could be situations like that, changes to the household size. It's extensive household expenses, like the roof, you know, the roof caved in during the latest blizzard or something unique like that. So, we'll talk about those.

So first I'm going to turn it over to our panel to really talk about the process. We want, we encourage families to work with the financial aid office. To understand the timing, it's going to be, it could be a different process in a different form from school to school. So, because Carla is first in my little squares here, I'm going to have Carla talk first about Wheaton College and any, anything else you might want to talk about, maybe from Bentley or other schools about, how the process works, where they can find any forms that you might have, and how they should initiate the process.

And then we'll dig deeper into the decisions that you might be making. Okay.

Carla Minchello: Yeah, here at Wheaton, we have students who will sometimes call us, or their parents will call us, or they'll email us to let us know that, you know, something has changed in their circumstances since 2022, which is the tax year that this year's FAFSA is going to be based on.

Something has happened recently, like there's been a change of income or a loss of a job. And then, depending on what the special circumstance is, we will usually tell them what to send in. We have an appeal form here, which is just, it's an institutional form, and it's kind of a catch all. So, it has three or four of the most common appeal reasons on it.

And people can check off the box that applies to them or we have, you know, another box that they can check off. And usually, we ask them to send us that with a letter of explanation. And then again, depending on what type of appeal it is, we might want supporting documents like tax returns or. If someone has lost their job, a recent pay stub or something like that, but usually we will have the family just contact us and let us know what's going on.

And then we will follow up with them about what types of documentation we might need. Most of our appeals get done after the initial award is sent out. You know, sometimes families contact us ahead of time, but it's, it can sometimes be hard for a financial aid office to know what to do with that before they've done the initial award or, you know, we might not even have a FAFSA yet that we can look at or a CSS Profile.

So, a lot of times we will tell people, you know, wait until you get your award and then if it's not enough, we can look at the appeal documentation and see if anything would change here we offer very large merit scholarships to most of our applicants, so that affects the way we do things here as well.

You know, a lot of times people don't realize that they're going to get a large merit scholarship from us, so we usually tell them, wait until after you get your award and then we can talk about doing the appeal. But that's different from school to school and depending on what type of appeal it is.

You know, some of one reason people might appeal is because they got a different awards from different schools. Usually that's the sort of thing that, you know, we're not going to take a look at that until after we've done our own award for you. So,

Stephanie Wells: right, that's more of a negotiation versus an actual appeal.

Right, right, right. Awesome. Amy, do you want to talk about your process at GCC? Sure. You know, it sounds very, very similar.

Amy Proietti: to what Carla was saying. We do ask students to wait to appeal until they have their initial award, you know, considering particularly that the FAFSA, which is the only application we use here at GCC, is the baseline calculation for eligibility.

So, we want to start with that. You know, the only thing. That I might add that's different from Carla is, we really rely on our partners at the counseling level in the high schools to let students know that this process exists.

Amy Proietti: We do find a lot of times that students and families, at least in our area and the students that we serve. Don't know that a special circumstances appeal is an option. So, we often get phone calls and inquiries that are a bit, let's say for a kind word, a bit defensive until they realize there might be something that we can do to advocate for them, to do a different calculation based on the documentation.

You know, it's what we do is very similar. And then the only other kind of consideration here at. Thanks so much. The community college level is the newly introduced free community college programs have really changed this process for us significantly in terms of the number of appeals that we are seeing, because not only do we have the students that are eligible for free community college, but the money that they are not using Is then available for other students. So, we've really been able to increase the amount of money we're giving across the board, which has decreased the number of special circumstances appeals that we've seen, at least in this academic year since they've introduced, the free community college programs. So those are really the only things that I would add. Everything that Carl said is very similar to what we do. That's great. And Kevin.

Kevin DeRuosi: We do things completely different here at Salem State. We actually encourage our students to, as soon as you file your FAFSA, if you feel that you have special circumstances, if you know your income has changed or anything like that, to file your appeal at that point.

The reason we do that is because we are very heavily reliant on state funding for our financial aid awards. So, if we were to go out with an initial award. And then require a student to file an appeal. There are chances that our funds may be depleted by the time the appeal is actually done. So, we like to start with an accurate, average, you know, what their actual, I'm going to say EFC, even though we're going to SAI, but we want to start with a clean package.

So, we do recommend students, you know, if you know that there's been circumstances, file your appeal with us as soon as You file your passport. It's an online form. Students can go to the Salem State website and just type in a financial aid appeal. The form will come up typically within 48 to 72 hours once we receive the form.

Somebody from my office will reach out to the parents and our student to say this is the documentation that we're going to need for the RPL. And then we take it from there. Other than that, we do rely heavily on state funds. So, we do encourage students to appeal early.

Stephanie Wells: That's great. Thank you, Kevin.

And I think one that you'll probably see a lot this year is students, families have more than 1 child in college at the same time. I estimate that there'll be a lot of appeals about that. Since it is included on the FAFSA, but it isn't part of the. calculation for the upcoming year. So, there may be families. I don't know how many of our, of our colleagues in financial aid heard the feds over the summer at the Q and a's for our training on the new FAFSA say that they expected schools to come up with a policy for multiple children in school at the same time, which is different. That is, I think where it's going to land is with, with the schools, right?

Because it will. Pretty much be, you know, institutional. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, it's going to be, it's going to differ from school to school, but I anticipate a lot of those situations. Okay, so here's the topics that we're going to, you know, focus on. So, changes in income. There could be, you know, a lot of increases in income.

You know, if you win the lottery, great, but most folks aren't going to report the increases until the following year. However, sometimes there could be a one-time gain. There could be, you know, a retirement withdrawal that may be a family. Used because somebody lost a job. So, they were taking out some of their early retirement money just to get the bills paid.

So those are, you know, situations. That's an example of things that could come up that it might look like they have an increase in income, but really it was because they lost a job. So those are things that colleges can take into account. Decreases in income are probably more likely what colleges are going to hear about for special circumstances.

So, Kevin, I'll start with you. If you want to touch upon what you see most frequently at Salem State and, you know, situations where you can and can't help, families, whatever you think is appropriate to share. I mean, the most prevalent one would be a decrease in income due to, you know, job loss or reduction in hours.

For the most part, we look at our main goal in doing an appeal is. Naturally, to reduce the estimated family contribution and starting in 2425, the Student Aid Index, the SAI, we see a lot of reduction in the workforce. We do have a number of parents and students that, you know, they're still kind of recovering from the pandemic and they don't have their feet under them yet.

Another. Item we see frequently would be the withdrawals from pensions to cover expenses because of a decrease in income. I mean, it's pretty much, they aren't, they don't vary too much. It's usually a loss of income, the death of a spouse, a parent. We do have the occasional trying to think of the word I was going to take up, a change in living situations where, you know, they, they needed to downsize or they needed to upsize or they were, yeah.

You brought up the point earlier, you know, the roof we've actually had a few, you know, there was a, we had a fire at the house and our insurance is only covering so much that and medical, although medical expenses are difficult. When it comes to an appeal, because the FAFSA does allow for a certain percentage of income to be protected from medical expense.

But for the most part, it's a decreased rate.

Stephanie Wells: Great. Thanks, Kevin. And just for those folks who logged in after we got started, if you have any questions, feel free to type those in the Q& A, and we will get those answers for you. Carla, do you want to go next?

Carla Minchello: Sure, I think I've done appeals for pretty much all of these things on this list.

You know, probably the one that's the least common, I would say, is life insurance distribution and inheritance. Those are, you know, kind of less frequent. What you do with them depends sort of on the circumstances. So, when we have one time income that a family has received that they don't expect to be repeated.

Sometimes we will collect the tax return for the following year if it's available to make sure that the income in the next year is lower than the base year. That's usually kind of the easiest way to handle it. Sometimes we collect the prior year tax return and recalculate the information to remove those one-time sources of income.

And this is not an appeal that every school does. Again, it depends sort of on the funding level that the school has and what their policies are. But at the private schools that I've worked at. We've always done these. I even did them when I worked in a public school as well. So, one of the things I was going to mention is that one of the things we have to do first is determine if the money is actually reflected in the assets that the family has reported on the financial aid applications and if it hasn't been, then perhaps it should be. So usually, we try to find out from the family, is the money still available? Did they invest it? Where, what happened to that money basically? And if it is a one-time income that is gone for some reason, because they had to use it for something like a, an emergency expense, then we may not include any of it, either an income or assets, but sometimes, especially with something like a retirement withdrawal.

Sometimes it's just been moved to an asset, and so we just have to make sure that the assets that the family reported already reflects that. Otherwise, we'll move sometimes those sources from income to asset and that for decreases in income usually, again, what we do is we try to find out what the family's current situation is, how long ago the job loss happened.

If a job loss just happened, then sometimes we can't do that adjustment right away because the, the parent, or student might get another job right away it might take a little while until they know if they're going to qualify for unemployment or severance, and a lot of times families, like, will call us up the day after they lose their job and they want us to do the adjustment right then.

So, one of the things to know, I think, about those types of appeals is that sometimes we have to wait a little while. And some schools have a policy that they, you know, won't do it until the person's been unemployed for a certain period of time. Sometimes it just depends on what documentation is available, how quickly we can make those adjustments.

Stephanie Wells: Excellent. Amy, did you have anything to add?

Amy Proietti: only, you know, only a couple of things that I think are just specific to the community college level. We definitely have a policy that a job loss or a reduction in salary has to be 6 months or longer before we would consider the appeal and I would say the vast majority of our appeals are not only coming from changes in income, decreases in income, but also often coming as a surprise to the student or the family when we calculate their aid, and it's much, much less than they thought. And it is specifically because of a one-time distribution that is reflected on the taxes that they just didn't know would be impacting financial aid, and then they, you know, will contact us, give the explanation of why, and then we'll say, well, but that was a one-time thing, that's not relevant anymore, and then we will do, an appeal at that point.

But I would say the vast majority of our customers’ special circumstances really do come from people who do not realize aid would be impacted by one time. Things like capital gains. Usually with us, inheritance, or retirement is an impact piece.

Kevin DeRuosi: I just want to add Salem State. We do. If it is a job loss situation, a recent one. We do require at least a six to eight-week timeframe from the time of loss of job. And then we would also require proof that you apply for, and either were approved or denied, to receive unemployment benefits. So, there is that lag time.

Stephanie Wells: Great. So, three situations, very clear to check in with the college because everybody might do it just slightly differently and look at things a little bit, you know, the timing particularly.

So with the new FAFSA, if anybody has seen the prototype, it's the whole, section about the student in answering certain questions to decide are they independent or not is going to be a little bit easier this year. So, there it is, it does have a much better flow than the previous FAFSA. So, it should be a little bit easier for them to get through this part of the FAFSA.

But these are the scenarios where students may be considered independent and therefore will not be required to provide any parental information on the FAFSA. So, I'll let you read some of these, but some of them, such as, you know, skipping down towards the end. We do have a webinar specifically with DCF Panelists to talk about foster youth and, you know, those kids that they're working with at DCF.

So, I just want to kind of add that in there that we even have more training just on that specific information. But, you know, the question I get most is legal guardianship. So, I might have a student who's in the care of their grandparent and maybe the parents are out of the picture or passed away or Who knows what the situation is.

So, the new FAFSA does walk them through that, pretty well as well as whether they're homeless or at risk of being homeless. So, the new FAFSA kind of, you know, gets into that a bit. Let's talk about those scenarios at each of the schools. And, you know, situations that have come up and how, you know, they may need information from you as a school counselor.

So, let's start with, who wants to go first? Kevin, I see you're not on mute, so I'll go with you first.

Kevin DeRuosi: At Salem State, currently, we have 86 housing insecure or unaccompanied youth enrolled. 56 of them actually live on our campus year-round, and we have 35 BCF students currently on our campus. As far as the state of Massachusetts does not recognize emancipated minors, that is something that we cannot accommodate because it's not a legal standing in Massachusetts.

Unaccompanied youth, Housing Insecure or DCF students, myself, and my colleague Danielle, they're our special populations. We pretty much handhold them from as soon as we know that they're coming to the university. Through their entire four years here, and we make sure that, you know, the aid is sufficient enough to cover the bills that they have funds for break housing and their funds for, for books and supplies.

We work very closely with PCF. We have PCF on campus twice a year to meet with their students that are here. But pretty much if a student should call and say, if we're not aware of that, we usually become aware. We have a one stop center, so they'll call into the one stop and say, my parents, I don't have any parents to fill it out.

And we do have, because as my colleagues in this panel can attest to, financial aid has forms for everything. So, we do have a dependency to override the risk of homelessness form that we have students fill out. Those come directly to me and my colleague Danielle, and we kind of work with those students and figure out what's going on and work out what they need.

We connect them with resources here on campus and off campus. So, we do have a very solid program for our 124 independent students. Right.

Stephanie Wells: Great. And Amy, do you want to talk about GCC, some of the situations that you guys might come across where maybe the FAFSA doesn't send them in the direction that they need to go to, and they need a little bit of extra support, maybe even from school counselors to document that they really should be an independent student.

Yes, thank you.

Amy Proietti: think more than anything, we need our school counselors just to know that they can contact the school and work with the school on behalf of the student when they're graduating senior, we are off. We regularly looking for the school to confirm for us that a student is homeless.

For example, I wish I had a handle on the numbers like Salem State does, but because we're a commuter school, because of, you know, a lot of things in a rural poor area.

Amy Proietti: Our students oftentimes don't consider themselves homeless, even if they're couch surfing, even if they're living with a family, you know, that is not their own family, they're living with a friend and their family, they don't consider themselves homeless. So, we often don't get good information. until there's something else that brings us to our attention. We have a pretty simple process for a student to bring to our attention that they feel like they should be independent of their parents. And, you know, it's a simple meeting with me or the director of financial aid and the regulations are pretty clear that all that's required is the documentation of an interview with the student. but what we often do have to tell our students is you may find we will be able to confirm that you're independent, that you meet our standards, but every school can have a different process and have different standards and you may find that if you get to UMass before you become, before you turn they may not be as easy to convince that you should be independent. It does help when they've done the process here and they don't just do it when they go to the more expensive school but it's a really different population here because we don't have a great handle on who is actually, we feel like there's probably more students that would qualify as independent provisionally and then, you know, be able to get some wraparound supports from us once they identify and we can talk to them. We just don't, it's, it's, this is something we unfortunately have a difficult time getting a handle on because students often not realizing that they're part of this population.

Perhaps the new FAFSA will do a better job. We'll see.

Stephanie Wells: Hopefully. Thank you, Amy. That was great. And Carly, do you have anything to add here? What might you see at Wheaton or any of the other schools you've been at?

Carla Minchello: Yeah, homeless students like us, but we do have students that don't have parents available to complete the applications, and that's a little bit different. So, one of the things I wanted to mention is that we do require documentation. A lot of other schools do of when a student is in legal guardianship and if a student is a ward of the court or in foster care, and the reason we require that documentation is because at many of the schools I've worked at, we've just found that students just answer these questions incorrectly.

Sometimes they and we don't want to have to return federal aid to somebody if we find out years later that they weren't really in legal guardianship. So, we asked for that information up front. One of the things we find with legal guardianship in particular is that many students are placed in the custody of someone other than their parents.

And that's what the paperwork shows. But custody agreements do not meet the federal requirements. Requirement for legal guardianship. So just something to be aware of as you're working with students, because a lot of times guidance counselors are like, oh yeah, we have the documentation and then we get it and it's a custody agreement.

It's also not uncommon for students from other countries who their parents send them to the United States and put them in the care of a relative and call that legal guardianship but there is actually no legal arrangement there. So, what usually happens is if we get the paperwork and we see that it's custody, then usually we will talk to the student, and sometimes their counselor and find out what the situation is. If the student's parents are unavailable, if they no longer have contact with the parents, then we'll usually do a dependency override, which is a little bit of a different way of handling it.

We'll also do dependency overrides in cases where The parents are abusive or it's dangerous for the parent to contact, for the student to contact the parent or the student just doesn't know where their parents are, which sometimes they're abandoned and they live with other relatives or friends and they don't even know where their parents are.

We will not do dependency overrides in most schools while in cases where The parents just don't want to complete the application because they don't want to pay for school or because they, you know, don't get along with the child or because they don't want the child to go to college, which unfortunately, I have seen some parents don't want their child to go to college.

So, they will refuse to fill out these forms. So usually in those cases. We try to say that we, if we are, if the parents are available, we'll try to talk to them and explain to them that by not completing the FAFSA, they're preventing their child from getting any aid. It doesn't mean that they will just get aid from the school to cover everything.

So sometimes we're, when we have that conversation with them, we're successful in getting them to complete the forms. And with the new FAFSA, it's very clear over and over again that a message to the parent by providing your information as contributor does not mean that you're required to provide support for the student for college, because sometimes parents think, Oh, if I'm on the FAFSA, then I'm required to provide money.

And that's not the case. Okay, so let's, let's talk a little bit about, I think we can probably just skip right ahead to the mass state aid situation because we just talked a little bit about a little bit more in detail because of the new changes in Massachusetts, new resources to talk to help undocumented students, but in general for federal regulations undocumented students, they can be admitted and attend college, but they're not eligible for federal, federal financial aid. They may be eligible for state aid depending on the school, on the state that they live in. So here in Massachusetts, on the next slide, we'll talk about that.

We do recommend that undocumented students really be in touch, especially as they're looking at colleges to see. What opportunities are at the school? Maybe some schools have special scholarships for those students or special more opportunities, multicultural centers at the school, they might know of resources for the students.

We do have a slide that has a lot of resources for you in a couple of slides. But in some most circumstances, private scholarships or maybe even in school in state tuition might be helpful, particularly at a public college or community college for them to paying cash might be more affordable. So those situations can often be tough.

Let's skip right ahead to some of the new resources that are available here in Massachusetts. And I am going to ask Amy and Kevin to touch upon this. And whoever wants to go first can present this slide to us. Kevin, I see your off mute, so we're going to pick you first.

Kevin DeRuosi: All right, because, you know, clear disclosure, we really don't have a ton of information on This new program, all these new programs that the state is rolling forward. We know we found out yesterday that the state's own FASFA, MASFA was open yesterday, right now, college administrators, we have no way to access that information.

We don't know what it looks like. We don't know what the output looks like. We don't really have a ton of information. My best advice would be, you know, keep going to our website or the state's website. I know we're updating our website every time we get new information. What I will kind of talk about I'm just clicking, sorry to interrupt.

I'm going to click on the site. So, there's a hyperlink here that talks about tuition equity. And I also want to clarify that the announcement yesterday that the form was available. It's really only available for students who are in school. Now it's not available for the new 24 25 fast applicants.

It's really just for students who are in school college right now. So, I just wanted to throw that clarification out there too.

Kevin DeRuosi: And I do know that students need to have been enrolled in a Massachusetts high school for three years. Students that wish to pursue this would need to sign an affidavit stating that they will apply for citizenship within 120 days from the point that they become eligible to apply for citizenship and that's pretty much all I know.

Stephanie Wells: Amy. Yeah, and we do have, I'll let Amy pipe in, but we do have a, I'll have a QR code at the end of the webinar of a recording that we did, I believe it was in December with Clantha McCurdy at OSFA that gets into a lot of this stuff in a little bit more detail. Again, it was recorded in December.

So, some of what she might have said has been updated since then, but I think that'll be really helpful. But Amy, do you want to add anything? You know, I would just, I would just highlight, excuse me, that.

Amy Proietti: The bullet points on this slide are what have to be met to be able to qualify, to do the MASFA. That's the Massachusetts specific FAFSA for this population and, they just are rolling it out. We're not getting trained in any way until January 23rd, even though they were eligible as of fall of 23 and we'll have to see how it goes. This is a leap of faith.

Amy Proietti: And then, you know, the final thing I would add, of course, and the state school population and people who help students at the state colleges and universities already know this tuition is what this gets the student in state tuition.

Tuition is a small, small piece of the bill charges. So, it's not that they're going to get into a situation where, you know, even community college is free. It's important that our folks, the counselors, are helping us to make sure students and families understand what this is really about is a, is a way to, a path into higher ed, for this population.

Right. Nicely said. Yeah. Right. So I talked a little bit about this already for undocumented students, you know, touching base of the multicultural recruiting coordinator, seeing what type of resources and just, you know, doing campus visits to see, you know, there are a lot of students who might look like me who are in the same situation as me, you know, what sort of resources, maybe even scholarships are available and merit scholarships at most schools.

Really it might not be dependent on citizenship status. So, they may still be eligible for merit scholarships at colleges, local community scholarships, depending on where they're living might have resources for them as well. So, you'll get copies of these slides, but we do have some great resources on me for dot org.

The video that I mentioned about supporting undocumented students. There's a link to it. That is our, webinar that we recorded with DCF as great resource, great resource for you to watch and get more information on there as well as a great blog to help undocumented students or parents. So, you know, tap into these resources. They're all on the MEFA website and we can provide you with those, thankfully. All right, so let's, moving right along, just keeping track of the time here, let's talk about the non-traditional parent family households. So, just a quick briefing, brief update, you know, here in Massachusetts, Federally, same sex parents are both included on the FAFSA and, CSS Profile if they are officially married.

Parents who are not married but are living in the same household, same sex or, you know, multi sex, it doesn't matter which, which it is, but if they are married, if the second parent, even if it's not their child and they have adopted the student, if they're married, if they're living together but not married, then both.

Parents would be reporting their information on the FAFSA, but when we're getting divorced and separated parents, especially this year, this upcoming year, knowing, okay, who should be the contributor? Because as you may know for the upcoming year, whoever fills out the FAFSA is not necessarily the custodial parent anymore, as it has been in the past.

Stephanie Wells: It's going to be the parent that provides the most financial support, more financial support. That's going to fill out that FAFSA. So that person is going to be the contributor for the upcoming 2425 FAFSA. So that's a big change. So, we have to sort of train ourselves to go from custodial parents to parent that provides the most financial support.

So, we'll dig into that a little bit. Now the non-custodial parent, as many of you know, Most likely will usually be required to fill a noncustodial CSS Profile if that school requires it, unless there's, you know, one of those unique situations that, you know, that noncustodial parent is, you know, a danger to the student or something, then they might be able to get a waiver for that noncustodial form, but they should be in touch with the colleges about that.

So, I do want to just show you real quick before I open it up to the panel. MEFA created this great resource. We have it. Live on MEFA. org, but we also have PDFs of this, this form, these graphics that I'm going to show you real quick, because it's so, it's a little bit more confusing this year about who needs an FSA ID.

So, we have these three scenarios, and I'll just let you look at them. I won't go into them in fine detail, so that families can figure them out. Well, am I going to be on this FAFSA? Am I a contributor? And if I am, do I need an FSA ID? So, it walks families through all these scenarios, so that they can figure out, okay, who needs an FSA ID?

So, some of these are pretty, pretty standard. Both parents file taxes jointly. Only one of those parents needs an FSA ID. I think that's something that, there's a lot of, you know, different information out there about this. If parents are married and filed jointly, then only one parent really needs an FSA to fill it out.

However, if parents are married and filed separately, then both of them will need an FSA ID to fill out their own individual section. So, then you have, you know, students who are. living in a, you know, divorced, or separated parent household. That, as you can see, I'm not going to get into all these in fine, fine detail, but you can see it gets a little bit more complicated.

The chart gets a little bit trickier to explain who needs an FSA ID and who will be the contributor. And then there's, you know, if I'm an independent student, maybe I'm married and I file jointly with my spouse, those situations. So, this is on there. As well as that I'm just going to click over to the school counselor page real quick, which hopefully you're all familiar with.

And we did put these charts in a PDF form in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese. So, you can actually download these forms. So, these are just PDF documents that you can house on your website or, you know, have printed out if you need them. So, this is a good resource for this upcoming year that hopefully everybody will be able to utilize as we go.

So, with that said, I know I talked a little bit on this one, but nontraditional parent families. I'll open it up to I'll go with Carla first. You know, situations that you come across that maybe students need a little bit more support and hopefully they're getting the support with these situations, but it is a little bit more confusing this year.

Carla Minchello: Yeah, one of the things I could talk a little bit about is the noncustodial parent waiver process for the CSS profile, because that is something that we used to see when I worked at a profile school, we used to get quite a few of those. So, the College Board does have a waiver request form that students can fill out or their parents can fill out CSS profile schools and students applying to see. If they if they use the college boards form, or if they have their own form that they wanted to fill out to do a waiver when we used to waive the noncustodial parent profile, we used to do it in situations where there was either abuse, like a restraining order, or, you know, there was there was documented abuse.

Between the noncustodial parent and the custodial parent and maybe the student, or there was abandonment. So, the noncustodial parent had taken off. They hadn't seen him or her in many, many years. We had many requests to do it because the noncustodial parent was uncooperative and at the schools I worked at, we did not often waive it for that reason.

So just something to be aware of because I know that that is for people applying to CSS profile schools. I know that creates a lot of angst and each school is going to be different. Some schools probably waive it for everybody who requests it, and then other schools are going to be pretty strict about it.

So just something to be aware of and work with each school on that. Another thing to be aware of for the CSS profile is that that application is primarily for institutional aid from the college itself. So, if there's a non-custodial parent who is not going to fill out that form and the college won't waive it, the student can still qualify for merit-based aid if the school offers it, and for federal and state aid.

The CSS Profile and the non-custodial CSS Profile are just for institutional aid. So, you can tell the college, we're not going to be able to get this completed, so please just award us our federal and state aid and any merit aid that we qualify for. And for some families, that will be enough.

Then for other families, they're going to have to try to get that non-custodial parent to cooperate. Another thing that I think might happen more for CSS schools this year is that as they start getting FAFSAs in and comparing it to the information they have from the profile on both the custodial and the non-custodial parent, they may ask some questions of the family.

If it looks like maybe the parent Of record on the FAFSA is not the parent that is providing more support just because since they're going to have information on both parents, unlike FAFSA only schools that they might have some questions based on the income and assets and child support reported on those forms as to which parent is really providing more support.

So, you might want to prepare some of the students you work with for applying to profile schools that they might get some questions later on. I think that's more likely to happen than FAFSAs.

Stephanie Wells: Right. Right. And in unwilling is not the same as unable to report. Yeah. Yeah. Great. Kevin, do you want to add here? or Amy?

Amy Proietti: You know, the only thing I would quickly add is if families, I think, stress too much about who's going to do the FAFSA when there is, two parents that are in a divorced or separated, that's typically what you see, divorced or separated situation. And what I advise is pick one, keep your story simple and consistent. And there are no resources at colleges, there are no resources at the IRS. or at FAFSA to follow up on that. So, keep your story simple, make a choice and go with it. And you know, this should not be something that is a barrier to getting a FAFSA filed.

Stephanie Wells: Yeah, and Kevin, do you want to just clarify what the feds have said about.

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