College admissions season is under way, so it won’t be long before today’s coddled high school seniors become tomorrow’s impoverished university undergraduates.
With the cost of college continuing to rise — more than $40,000 annually for private institutions and average student loan debt at graduation now nearing $30,000 — four years of experimentation, excitement and all-night study sessions may ultimately provide a financial nightmare to go along with the diploma.
There’s financial aid, various grants and, of course, plenty of student loans to be had. There are also state universities, community colleges and online programs to help lower the overall cost of higher education.
And then there are some out-of-the-box college-funding ideas. But be warned: Some of these ideas are extreme. Do not try them at home — at least, not without a sense of humor (mixed with fear about just how high your student loan debt burden could be in the future.)
The federal government assumes that parents will support their kids through college, so they look at parents’ tax information, filed through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), in order to determine how much financial aid a student needs — and will get. But an exception is made if a student meets just one of 10 different criteria and is considered “independent” on the FAFSA.
“Independent” students give their own tax information to the government instead and, as a result, usually qualify for much more financial aid than “dependent” students who receive parental support. One such criterion for qualifying for FAFSA independence is being (or having been) an emancipated minor.
Although it may be every angst-ridden suburban teen’s dream to legally separate from his or her parents, this FAFSA home run is actually hard to achieve. Emancipation laws vary state by state, but almost all involve a stringent process where the minor must prove that there’s good reason to leave home. All this has to happen before age 18, the age of legal adulthood, so this option’s success rate is slim but not nonexistent.
Another criterion for “independence” on the FAFSA is marriage. If students are married on or before the day that they submit their FAFSA, they can claim financial independence in addition to reaping a variety of other tax benefits. However, the government will look at the combined tax information of the couple in order to determine need, so the goal isn’t to get a wealthy, temporary spouse. The poorer the couple are, the more likely they are to receive additional financial aid. So a Las Vegas or city hall chapel beckons, and it wouldn’t hurt to get hitched to someone who already has a lot of debt and little income (at least, when it comes to a bit of FAFSA “charity”).
Read more: 8 extreme ways to avoid college debt