Paying for College

Will Colleges Know If I Live with My Mom or My Dad?

Question: I am a senior applying to colleges this year. My parents are divorced and share joint custody. For grades 9 through 11, I lived mainly with my mom, but last month I moved in with my father on something of a trial basis. A couple of the colleges on my list require only the FAFSA form, and I've been told that I should put my residence as still being with my mother since she makes a lot less money than my dad does. But will the colleges find out that I'm now living with my father? I haven't changed my address on any school records.

When divorced parents share custody, students are usually advised to list on the FAFSA the name of the parent with whom they reside 51% of the time or more. If the child moves back and forth and lives with each parent pretty evenly, then of course he or she should name the “poorer" parent on the FAFSA because financial aid assessments will be based on that parent's income. (For colleges that require the CSS PROFILE or other institution-specific forms, then both parents' income is usually considered so it doesn't matter where the student claims to live.)

Although you risk some good karma by stating on your FAFSA form that you're domiciled with Mom, it makes sense to maintain that address on your college materials. Presumably you are not changing high schools, and your father lives within a reasonable distance. College folks are apt to raise eyebrows when a student uses the address of a parent whose house is a plane ride away from homeroom ... or even a lengthy commute by car.

Although “The Dean" doesn't promote dishonesty on college documents, I've seen a lot of students in your shoes over the eons who bounce back and forth between parents. So it seems entirely plausible that, if you tell the colleges that you live mainly with your mom, by the time the ink is dry on your applications, perhaps you will.