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How would having another child in college impact our financial aid?

December 20, 2018

If you will soon have more than one child attending college, or a child entering graduate school, then you may be wondering how that affects your eligibility to receive financial aid. To begin with, how your financial aid eligibility is evaluated depends on the methodology of the school to which your child is applying. All eligible educational institutions utilize the U.S. Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and resultant Expected Family Contribution figure, to award federal financial aid. Select schools also utilize data from the College Board’s College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile to award state and institutional aid. (About 250 college currently require students to complete a CSS Profile - check here if yours is on the list.)  Regardless of methodology, having more than one child in college impacts not only how you complete the FAFSA and CSS Profile, but also how much total aid that you are eligible to receive.

How to Complete the FAFSA

For schools that accept the FAFSA, you will need to submit a FAFSA for each undergraduate child separately. (The online application allows you transfer your information so that you only need to enter it once.) If your child is entering graduate school, then he or she is automatically considered independent and therefore must submit a FAFSA separately from you. For better or worse (usually better), parents’ finances do not affect graduate students’ eligibility for federal student funding.

Create Your FSA IDs

You and each of your children will need to create a Federal Student Aid Identification (FSA ID). The FSA ID is a username and password that serves as an electronic signature for the FAFSA application. Students and parent(s) are required create their own FSA IDs, each with a unique email address and phone number. Failure to do so can cause problems or delays with signing and submitting the FAFSA form or receiving financial aid.

  • Pro tip: It can take up to three days to use your FSA ID after creating it. Save time: create your FSA ID now.

Calculate Household Size & Number in College

On the FAFSA itself, you will be asked to provide figures for your family’s household size and number in college. Your household size includes yourself, your spouse, and all children for whom you support at least 50 percent of their financial needs, including (where applicable) graduate students. (Support can take the form of money, housing, food, clothes, medical or dental care, gifts, loans, or payment of college costs.)  Your “number in college” figure is the number of children (not parents) who are enrolled in a degree or certificate program at least half-time (generally, this means completing 6+ credit-hours per semester) and for whom you, the parent, provide more than 50 percent support.

  • Pro tip: If you include a graduate student in your “number in college” figure, be prepared to provide written documentation (upon request) to schools’ financial aid offices proving that you support more than half of the graduate student’s financial needs.

How FAFSA Schools Calculate Financial Need

After you submit a FAFSA for each of your undergraduate children, their individual needs for financial aid will be assessed. Schools utilizing the FAFSA employ the following formula to calculate a student’s need for financial assistance:

Financial Need =

Cost of Attendance - Expected Family Contribution Per Child

Cost of attendance is defined annually by the individual college and can vary greatly by school and, to a lesser extent, year of attendance. The Expected Family Contribution is determined (on a per child basis where applicable) by the Department of Education using a need analysis methodology based on the FAFSA data inputs that you provide. If your children each attend different schools, then they will receive different amounts of financial aid based on variations in the schools’ costs of attendance. The Expected Family Contribution Per Child for your household will be the same (on an annual basis) for each undergraduate child for whom you submit a FAFSA.

How to Complete Your CSS Profile

Your CSS Profile, like the FAFSA, includes how many children in your family are attending college. Your CSS Profile enables calculation of an Expected Family Contribution, on a per child basis where applicable. However, colleges utilizing the CSS Profile treat siblings’ college expenses somewhat less generously than schools that employ the FAFSA. In accordance with the CSS Profile’s Institutional Methodology, it is expected that families with two children in college will contribute 60 percent of the Expected Family Contribution per child. Families with three children in college are obligated to contribute 45 percent of the Expected Family Contribution per child. This could really add up - if you have three children who attend schools that utilize the CSS Profile, you could wind up paying 135 percent of the Expected Family Contribution! Luckily, the CSS Profile only pertains to state and institutional aid, and does not impact your eligibility for federal grants or loans.

Moral of the story: Encourage your children to apply to multiple schools, at least a few of which utilize only the FAFSA to determine your family’s expected financial contribution. The whole household will be grateful for it.