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Do Younger Children Get a Better Deal on Student Aid?

Sep 26, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

The simple answer is kind of—in certain circumstances. In reality, both older and younger children get a better deal on college tuition individually when both are in college during the same year. The older child will have a higher Expected Family Contribution before the younger child attends college, but then again, so will the younger once the older child graduates. How it pans out financially for each child depends on the individual situation and the level of tuition at both schools.

If your Expected Family Contribution is $50,000 for your first child and your assets don’t change significantly when your second child is enrolled in college, then your EFC could be split down the middle—with a $25,000 EFC for each student.

In this way, the second child does get a better deal on college tuition—with only $25,000, not $50,000, in tuition to make up for once all grant, scholarship, and federal loan money is accounted for. However, the family as a whole winds up paying the same amount.


Getting the best deal on financial aid can be complicated—and it can be difficult to pay for college if you have more than one student in school at the same time.



This is a simplified example. Not all student situations will result in an exact 50/50 split. The divide can be affected by changes in the parents’ income, as well as the assets of the children themselves, such as job income or 529 savings accounts, if applicable. Still, the divide is designed to ensure that families pay roughly the same Expected Family Contribution regardless of the number of children in college, barring any major changes in the family’s financial situation.

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Still, when you have multiple children in college, it can significantly lower the EFC for each child—resulting in a better deal for them individually. Students in such situations may qualify for significantly more in federal financial aid, and so it’s worth it for an older child to fill out the FAFSA again once your younger child or children enter college. Either way, each child going to college must fill out and sign his or her own FAFSA.

If you have an older child in graduate school—such as medical school—and a younger child in undergraduate college, the situation gets a bit more complicated. If the graduate school requires a parental contribution, the FAFSA generally does not take this into account—although your younger child’s college might. The FAFSA tends to consider students in graduate school as independents.

To get the most possible in financial aid, you may need to explain to your younger child’s school—in writing—that you are providing a major financial contribution to your older child’s graduate school expenses. If you contribute more than 50% of the expenses for the older child, the younger child’s school is more likely to be willing to count the older child as a dependent. To get this judgment, you will need to carefully document how much you spend on your older child’s expenses.

However, bear in mind that this may or may not result in the best deal for you. If the older child is not counted as a dependent of yours, he or she does not have to list your income in applying for his or her own financial aid—making the student more eligible for federal aid. Depending on the tuition and financial aid packages at both schools, it may be more to your advantage and the older child’s not to list the older child as a dependent.

Getting the best deal on financial aid can be complicated—and it can be difficult to pay for college if you have more than one student in school at the same time. However, the FAFSA is designed to ensure that families pay the same EFC regardless of how many children are in school—and all children are likely to get a better deal on student aid during years when they are all in school simultaneously.



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