Oct. 28, 2013
You can vote at 18, you can drink at 21, but the federal government will not consider you financially independent until age 24.
I was 23 when I moved out on my own last year. Because I had moved into my own apartment with a roommate and bought my own groceries and eventually my first car with advice and support from friends and professors, I applied for independent status several times throughout the year. Each time, I was denied.
I had to be born one year earlier or married. No way around it.
Living in your parents’ home or in a dorm with parental support is not practical for many college students. Several of my friends have escaped emotionally or physically abusive homes and unwanted arranged marriages. Others come from large families that cannot afford to support several college students under one roof.
But young adults supporting themselves face several obstacles to independence – a short credit history or no credit, a job market expecting bachelor’s degrees and an increased cost of living from 10 years ago.
And with a society that assumes we can automatically move back in with our parents when difficulties crop up, choices are slim.
After multiple conversations with the financial aid office over the course of the school year, I discovered I could submit a special circumstances appeal for independent status toward the end of the spring semester.
However, the appeals board rejected my first appeal, requesting further information, and when I gathered more letters to re-appeal, only then I was told that the annual deadline for appeals had passed.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, financial aid is awarded to 66 percent of undergraduates.
The full Pell Grant is only given to students with an estimated family contribution of zero on their student aid report, and according to The College Board, the organization that oversees the SAT and AP classes, “[i]n 2011-12, about half of all Pell Grant recipients were ages 24 or older” in its 30-year Trends in Student Aid report.
Most financial aid is awarded across a wide spectrum of incomes, including higher-income households, and no clear system exists for proving financial independence as a single adult not active in military service before age 24.
Parental handholding should not be expected for young adults, even in a financial sense. Students who are not able or not willing to continue living like teenagers into their 20s need resources in managing money and opportunities to prove themselves in the job market to prove their autonomy to government entities like FAFSA.