Will Older Child’s Merit Scholarship Hurt #2’s Aid Award?

Question: We have two college-bound children and we will not qualify for need-based aid. The first one has very high scores and has a good chance at merit-aid. The second – not as much. We are debating if to focus the college search of the first around merit aid. My question: If our first gets a significant merit scholarship, would our EFC still drop to a half once the second go to college, or would we still pay our full EFC? (Full EFC for the second if the first has a full ride scholarship – just as an example). Thanks!

That’s a really good question … but, unfortunately, you won’t get a really good answer from “The Dean” … just a far flakier “It depends.” I’m also a little confused. You said that you won’t qualify for need-based aid. Well, if your EFC is above the cost of attendance for Child #1, this is true. So are you wondering if your EFC may be low enough, once #2 comes along, to allow you to apply for need-based aid? That’s what I’m guessing. This is true for many families who can eke out a full-freight payment for a first child but are stretched beyond sanity if they have to cover college costs for two concurrently.

If you suspect that, once your older child is in college, your EFC for #2 could be low enough to qualify for financial aid, then you should definitely tackle the financial aid applications. The FAFSA form will ask how many family members are in college but does not ask about college costs or scholarships. So … if your Child #2 enrolls at a FAFSA-only college, the EFC will be, as you’ve noted, half of what your EFC was when #1 was your sole collegian. (Exception: If Child #1 attends one of the five U.S. service academies, you will not get the EFC “discount” for #2.)

BUT … the CSS PROFILE does ask about college costs for siblings (and about scholarships the siblings have received). However, even when armed with that information, not all institutions will use it “against” you. In fact, at most PROFILE colleges, your younger child’s financial need will not be affected by your older child’s good fortune. But I can’t promise you that this will be true across the board. As with most things in the crazy admissions process, don’t expect consistency. For a list of PROFILE colleges, see https://profileonline.collegeboard.com/prf/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet/PXRemotePartInstitutionServlet.srv

Again, if #2 is applying to FAFSA-only schools, you are out of the woods. But if PROFILE schools are on the list (or those with their own forms that are similar), you will have to decide if you want to ask in advance about the impact of #1’s merit award (and thus call attention to it) or simply hold your breath and wait for #2’s aid package to roll in, with the hope that there’s no deduction due to the reduced tuition at your other child’s college (and thus your EFC is low enough to qualify for aid).

My vote would be this: If your second child is considering Early Decision at a PROFILE college, then forewarned is forearmed. That is, you should ask the finaid folks there for an “early read” before the ED application has been submitted because you may not want to be blindsided by a small aid package (or no aid whatsoever), should your child be admitted ED and eager to accept the offer. If this early read suggests that you will take a big hit due to the scholarship, you may have to reconsider the ED plan. But if #2 is not applying ED, then you don’t have to schedule any pow-wows because it’s likely that most of this child’s colleges will not use the older child’s scholarship when calculating your bottom-line cost.