Image from Pexels.

Image from Pexels.

It’s that time of year again: FAFSA time. If you don’t know what the FAFSA is, well, you’re either not applying for financial aid (which, if not, then disregard this article as it’s not for you), or you’re getting pretty behind on what you should be researching RIGHT NOW (for those of you who fit into this category, check out this and this).

If you do know what the FAFSA is, then you’ll know that FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. And perhaps you’ll know that although basically every higher education institution in the United States requires students to fill it out, it’s unfortunately not very inclusive sometimes. I mean “not very inclusive” as in not all students can fill it out as accurately or thoroughly as they need to because it doesn’t encompass all financial or familial circumstances a student can find themselves in. Of course, it’s hard to encompass every single circumstance possible, but because of this non-inclusivity, it hinders students who don’t fit the “norm” from receiving much-needed financial aid. If you think you may be one of these students, be not afraid, for TP is to the rescue!

What sort of circumstances are difficult to report on the FAFSA?

Last year, I had difficulty filling out the FAFSA because its use of the word “parent” was pretty ambiguous. For me, I didn’t know whose information to report because my birth parent, whom I legally was supposed to be living with, lived states away while I stayed at my grandmother’s. In an instance like this, filling out such a vital form to my future college opportunities was pretty confusing, and I had to contact many, many people with many, many different answers. It sucked, to say the least. (If you’re in a situation like mine, skip to the next bolded section of this article, “What do I do if I find myself…?”, because I explain how I handled this there.)

Other difficult situations are aplenty: are you a ward of the state (perhaps this could help)? Is your parent(s) deceased (look at this)? What if your parents don’t file their taxes (second question on this page)? What if you or one/both of your parent(s) are homeless (try this and a link also good for other circumstances, too)? What if your parent(s) is incarcerated (a helpful how-to)? What if your parents are a same-sex couple, and their union is not recognized by federal law (this is very useful)? What if you’re a citizen, but your parents are undocumented or illegally reside in the U.S. (a forum that could be useful and the first question on this page)? All of these can serve as huge hindrances to a student’s federal financial aid eligibility, and most of the time the students in these situations need college financial aid the most. I’ve  included some links to check out in parentheses following each circumstance.

What do I do if I find myself in a difficult situation, but it’s not addressed in this article, or these links don’t help me?

Of course, just like the FAFSA, neither the internet nor I can give answers to every single circumstance ever in the history of the college financial aid process. Each person’s situation is unique. So here’s what to do if you’re still having trouble after this article:

First, contact your college(s), explain your situation, and ask them what they think you should do. Watch out—this can get pretty confusing if you have no knowledge of financial aid lingo, trust me. Just ask the person who’s helping you to break it down slowly for you. You’ll feel dumb, but it’ll help.

If for some reason contacting the college(s) you’re applying to doesn’t work, a safe bet is to send a letter explaining your circumstances to your college(s). Then go ahead and fill out the FAFSA as well as you can. This is basically what I did last year, because I called my colleges and couldn’t find a straight answer (or understand any given to me). So go with the default. Give your college(s) all of the information you can, and then let them figure it out. That’s what the financial aid departments are there for, honestly. If they want you to attend their college, they should be able to work with you. If not, then maybe you don’t want to go there anyway…

Good luck with the FAFSA. You’ll most likely be dealing with it for the next four years, so you might as well get acquainted with how you’ll have to report your information. It’s a roller coaster ride, but affording college is well worth the trouble, I promise you.

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the author

Jasmine is a Computer Science major at Scripps College in sunny Claremont, California. Besides writing and editing for The Prospect, Jasmine works as a copy editor for [in]Visible Magazine, a writer for Persephone Magazine, and a communications intern for Whirlpool Corp. When she's not binge watching Grey's Anatomy, she enjoys not wearing shoes (no matter the weather), petting strangers' dogs, and jamming on her ukulele. She can be reached by email at

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