Family Circumstances

At Cornell, we recognize that every family is different, and and a family's circumstances can change unexpectedly. We are here to help you with your situation.

Parents Divorced, Separated, or Never Married

When parents are divorced or separated, aid eligibility can be affected. So when completing applications for financial aid to Cornell, students must include income and asset information for both parents. While your custodial parent (the parent you live with most) will need to complete the application process, we will also require information from your noncustodial parent.

How does Cornell define a “parent" for financial aid purposes?

A “parent” is defined as either a student’s biological parents, adoptive parents, or step-parents (if legally married to the biological or adoptive parent). Foster parents, legal guardians, or other relatives with whom you reside are not considered parents.

If the whereabouts of your noncustodial parent are unknown, or if you have extenuating circumstances regarding your situation, complete the Noncustodial Parent Waiver Petition. Note that third-party supporting documentation is required. Refusal of your noncustodial parent to provide information or support does not constitute a waiver.

All information is kept strictly confidential unless a signed release is provided authorizing the sharing of information between all parties.

Note: Parents who were never married but live together are treated as married for financial aid purposes.

Independent Students

If you are admitted to Cornell as a dependent student, you will remain as such for your time at Cornell. Even if you are considered independent for federal student aid, Cornell may consider you to be a dependent of your parents when determining institutional aid eligibility.

Cornell will consider you to be independent if:

  • you are a non-traditional student and have been self-supporting for more than five years
  • both of your parents are deceased
  • you are a ward of the court

If any of these situations apply to you, please contact our office to discuss your individual circumstances. 

Loss of Parental Income

When a significant change occurs in parental income due to unemployment, long-term illness, disability, or death of a parent, you may contact the Office of Financial Aid at any time during the year for reconsideration of your aid eligibility. Please be prepared to provide:

  • Appeal Application
  • Most recent pay stub
  • Copy of employment termination letter
  • Information about unemployment or disability payments
  • Information regarding insurance and social security benefits