Finding ways to finance and support one child in college can be difficult under the very best circumstances. Having two (or more) children in college may feel like parents’ worst nightmare.
It doesn’t have to feel that way. Knowing how to navigate the FAFSA process is half the battle. When you have more than one financially-dependent member of your family in college, there are several things you need to know before you start that financial aid application process.
Step One: File a FAFSA application for each child
The key to obtaining financial aid – in any circumstance – is correctly completing and submitting the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). If you have more than one child starting college or in college at the same time, you’ll need to fill out a separate form for each child.
That’s because each child will require their own FAFSA ID and will need their own individual data to submit to their college. That’s true even in cases where more than one of your children is going to the same college.
As parents, you must report all financial information on each child’s FAFSA form. That is the case even if your children have separate savings and 529 plans. It’s also the case even though both federal student aid and institutional aid will be determined based on each child’s individual application.
In other words, let’s say you have two kids who will be in college at the same time. And let’s say you’ve set aside $10,000 per child in separate 529 savings plans. You’ll need to report $20,000 in savings on each child’s FAFSA form.
Don’t worry, though, because later documents will indicate that your total 529 savings (or other savings plans) is to be divided between your two children. The initial FAFSA form, however, must show all of your savings and other assets.
For an in-depth guide on how to file the FAFSA check out our post on financial aid 101.
It details what you need to know as well as what deadlines to pay attention to.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Step Two: Submit the first FAFSA and then transfer the info
Once you’ve filled out the FAFSA form for one child, go ahead and submit it online. A confirmation page will appear on your screen. On that confirmation page, you’ll see a link that asks if you’d like to transfer your financial information to another application.
The link will say: “Transfer your parents’ information on another application.” Be sure you click on that link before you leave the confirmation page because you cannot return to that page.
If you forget to transfer the information, it's not a big deal; however, you will need to start a whole new FAFSA form for your next child’s application. It’s just easier to transfer the information and also saves a lot of time.
Step Three: Record your secure FAFSA ID for each child
After you submit your FAFSA for both kids, you’ll be given a FAFSA ID for each child and for yourself as a parent. You must have that FAFSA ID to access the accounts later.
Record and save those IDs someplace safe. Because your FAFSA includes identifying information, such as birth dates and social security numbers, you want to be sure your account cannot be breached.
The reason you will receive a separate FAFSA ID for yourself and for each child is that each account is linked to individual names, email addresses, phone numbers, and social security numbers.
If you or your child applied for federal financial aid before May 10, 2015, you may have been given a FAFSA PIN. The FAFSA ID has replaced the PIN, but you can connect to your ID with your existing PIN. If that applies to you, you’ll be prompted to link those two pieces of identifying information when you receive your ID.
Each FAFSA ID can be used to access the National Student Loan Data System. You will also use that ID to access the MyStudentAid mobile app.
With access to the federal loan website, you’ll be able to:
Being able to deal with financial aid issues online is convenient and necessary at times when you cannot go to your school’s financial aid office in person.
- sign for your financial aid online
- do your entrance and exit counseling
- renew loans
- set up a consolidation plan
- apply for an adjusted repayment plan
If you ever need help with the financial aid process, contact your school's financial aid office. Here are some questions you might have for the financial aid office.
Photo by Luis Quintero
Step Four: Get your Student Aid Report (SAR)
After you’ve submitted the FAFSA for each child and received your individual IDs, you’ll receive a Student Aid Report (SAR). This report is very important because it contains your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
The EFC is what schools use to determine institutional aid based on the family’s financial situation. It reflects the fact that you have more than one child in college, which is critically important for ensuring that you get the best possible financial package for your whole family.
Here’s how the EFC works: Let’s say you have two kids enrolled in college at half-time or more. Let’s also say your EFC reflects that you have $30,000 that you can contribute toward both kids’ tuition and expenses. The college will see that information and recognize that you have $15,000 for each child.
Likewise, if you have three kids in college at the same time and $30,000 for family contributions, the school will see that as $10,000 per kid.
The CSS Profile is not the same as the EFC
Do bear in mind that about 400 schools (almost exclusively elite private colleges) do not split the EFC costs evenly among your kids. Instead, these institutions use the CSS Financial Aid Profile, which requires more information than the FAFSA. The CSS Profile expects the family to contribute 60% of the EFC for two children and 45% of the EFC for three.
Here’s what that means: If you have two kids in college, and your EFC is $30,000, your expected contribution per child is $18,000. If you have three kids in college, your expected contribution is $13,500 per child.
You can see that the Profile saddles you with more costs than your EFC. You may need to look for scholarships and other financial aid options to make up the difference. Private lenders can be a solution. Some will offer a bonus or a lower interest rate for parents who are taking out loans on behalf of more than one child.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Step Five: Talk to each school’s financial aid office
After you fill out the FAFSA forms with your kids, be sure to talk to each school’s financial aid counselors. Schools may be willing to offer similar financial packages to siblings who are attending the same school.
If your children are going to different schools, it’s still a good idea to talk to financial aid counselors. You’ll want to be sure that schools can adjust aid when a younger child starts college before older siblings finish. Likewise, you’ll want to know how much aid may decrease for a younger child when an older child graduates. Planning ahead can eliminate unwelcome surprises when financial aid packages decrease.
Planning for college requires thinking through your plans for everyone in your family. Supporting two or more children in school at the same time doesn’t have to be a financial disaster, and filling out the FAFSA for multiple kids isn't as treacherous as it sounds. It does mean strategic planning in order to maximize your financial aid benefits.