Most undergraduate students qualify for Pell grants to help defray the cost of their education. Unlike student loans, Pell grants do not have to be paid back, so students can take advantage of them without adding to their debts after they graduate. Emancipated minors -- students under the age of 18 who have a court order terminating their parents' rights over them -- may have difficulty obtaining Pell grants because they need their parents' income information to apply.
Not Considered Independent
As of June 2011, the U.S. Department of Education does not consider emancipated minors to be financially independent. As with other students under age 24, emancipated minors must provide information about their parents' income when applying for financial aid, even though their parents have no legal obligation to support them. Emancipated minors, however, might be able to apply independently if they meet other U.S. Department of Education criteria for financial independence.
Criteria for Independence
For an emancipated minor to be considered financially independent, he must be married on the day he applies for financial aid, have children or other dependents who receive more than half of their support from him, have no living parents or be currently serving in the Armed Forces. If any of these conditions applies, the Department of Education considers only the student's income in determining eligibility for Pell grants and other financial aid.
Maximum Pell Grant
The maximum Pell grant amount for emancipated minors is the same as for other college students. As of June 2011, Pell grants award up to $5,550 per year for eligible students. The actual grant award is based on the student's income and that of her parents, unless she qualifies for independent status.
Depending on the conditions under which a student became emancipated, he might not be able to get his parents' income information. Thus, emancipated students might have to consider alternatives to federal financial aid. Such students could take classes part-time while holding down a full-time job or apply for private scholarships and loans to help fund their education. Emancipated students also might consider deferring a college education until age 24 and work in the meantime so that they eventually can be considered independent students for federal financial aid purposes.