Deep into Details

The other day I saw a question on a student aid messageboard from someone who had a loan in default and wanted to go to nursing school. They were a couple months away from completing a loan rehabilitation program, but until they got at least 2/3 of the way through it they weren’t eligible for additional federal student loans. How, they wanted to know, could they get aid for a program starting before then?

They mentioned that their parents were willing to help, so I said they should probably take out Parent PLUS loans. This was, it turns out, incorrect: You can’t borrow a Parent PLUS loan for your child if that child is in default on a federal student loan. The poster will have to wait a couple of months to regain their own eligibility for student aid, at which point they and their parents could both borrow to pay tuition. They’ll probably be able to get the school to allow them to use a payment plan for the first part of tuition, enroll, then get the rest of the tuition in loans later on in the semester.

Spurred by that embarrassing public error, I decided to read as much as I could of the entire 2016 Federal Student Aid Handbook, which is… not generally a page-turner.

But there are some amazing little details in there that are really cool:

As a result of the Jay treaty of 1794, native Canadians (that is, First Nations tribe members) qualify for student aid. However, as non-citizens they don’t have Social Security numbers, and as non-resident-aliens they don’t have alien registration numbers either. So, what ID number do they use when applying? Apparently all of them just put A9999999999 in that field, and then the financial aid administrator is prompted to check their tribal membership bona fides.

Children under 13 can go to college and get financial aid if they have finished high school or equivalent credentials. But the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) prohibits governments and businesses from gathering personal information about these children online, so they must apply on paper. (If you’re still in high school and just taking college classes, you don’t count as a college student and can’t get aid).

Men must register with the Selective Service between the ages of 18 and 26, or they can’t get financial aid. The exceptions are students who became citizens after the age of 26, and students who served in the military, more or less proving that their non-registration was accidental. If they simply forgot, no dice. Trans men often have obstacles registering for the selective service, since their gender isn’t necessarily what was on their paperwork between the ages of 18-26, so they also are exempt from the requirement. (I did not see an equivalent footnote about trans women, but my expectation would be that they are women and therefore not required to have signed up, even if they were legally male in the past – nobody’s going to ask Caitlyn Jenner if she signed up for the selective service back in the day).

The definition of “parent” for student aid is very complicated. If you have foster parents, for example, their income isn’t included when calculating your family contribution. But they do count as parents for other aspects of college and financial aid.

Homeless students get special consideration. If they live on campus, does that count as a home and therefore mean they won’t get the exceptions anymore? Nope, “would be homeless if not for dorm” still qualifies for special processing.

Residents of US territories qualify for US student aid… if they were born recently enough. If you’re from the US Virgin Islands and born before 1917, you may have trouble getting college aid. I don’t know how many 99-year-olds from St. Thomas are applying to college right now, but there’s a rule about it. In the case of Puerto Rico, for some reason you have to have been born after January 13, 1941, even though Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship under the Jones act of 1917. I don’t quite understand that one.

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