Paying for College

Does "Surrogate Son" Count as Household Member

Question: We have a young man who is our "surrogate child" for lack of a better term. For about a year now, he has lived with us during his breaks when he is not at college and we contribute towards his support by providing him room and board when he is here, buying him some things that he needs for school (computer, school supplies, household furnishings, etc.). He has cut off ties with his mother. When he started college almost two years ago, he applied as a financially independent student because his mother never contributed anything. He has that status. Plus he has SSI. But we do contribute to his support. I don't think he would be considered part of our household for financial aid purposes (isn't the definition whether you contribute 50% or more of support...? We contribute but not 50%) but I want to verify that.

If I'm interpreting your letter correctly, it sounds as if you're in the throes of filling out the FAFSA (and perhaps other financial aid forms) for your own child, while also offering some financial assistance to your "surrogate" son. Is this correct?

If so, as you suspect, you cannot count your surrogate son as an official household member for financial aid purposes. What you should do instead is to write a letter to colleges that explains your situation. Be as specific as you can about the amount you spend on your bonus child. If possible, include documentation (receipts, etc.).

Financial aid officers often have the discretion to factor atypical expenditures into an aid award. However, my financial aid guru (Ann C. Playe, former associate director of admission and financial aid at Smith College) tells me that you should not be optimistic about receiving any breaks from colleges because of these added household responsibilities. Of course, it can’t hurt to try, but my best guess, too, is that most of your pay-back will come in the form of good karma. :)

(posted 1/15/2011)