How should a FAFSA be filled out if I have two children going to
college and I am enrolling in a graduate program? When it asks how
many are attending college it says do not include parents. How do they
know that I am also attending college?
— Vicki Y.
I am a single parent in college and my daughter is also in
college. Why is a parent in college excluded on FAFSA for the child?
As a result my child has a huge EFC that I cannot meet.
— Kajaffa K.
I will be junior and 39 this fall. My son will be a freshman. My
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EFC is lower than his because the FAFSA instructions do not allow him
to include me, his parent, as someone who will be attending in
college. This means that I will receive more aid than him?! It seems
nonsensical that the EFC of family members should be different (he has
no income). Is there some logic for this, or have we fallen through a
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The Higher Education Amendments of 1998 (P.L. 105-244) changed the
federal need analysis formula to exclude parents from the number in
college, effective starting with the 2000-2001 academic year. Instead,
it became a professional judgment item, subject to the discretion of
college financial aid administrators.
Congress changed the formula because of widespread abuse.
The number in college question has a big impact on financial aid
eligibility because the parent contribution portion of the expected
family contribution (EFC) is divided by the number in college. Some parents
would enroll in a local community college just to qualify their
children for more financial aid. Many didn't even attend classes, but
instead would allow the registration to cancel because of nonpayment
of the bursar's bill.
If a parent is genuinely enrolled in college at the same time as their
child, they should ask their child's college for a professional
judgment review. The college financial aid administrator will want to
see proof of enrollment, such as a paid bursar's bill. They will also
verify the enrollment with the other college.
(If the college discovers evidence of fraud, the case will be referred
to the Office of the Inspector General at the US Department of
Education for possible prosecution. The penalties for fraudulently
obtaining federal student aid include fines of up to $20,000 and
imprisonment for up to 5 years, in addition to disgorgement of the
undeserved financial aid. Some colleges will also take disciplinary
action against a student for fraud on the financial aid applications.)
Colleges generally take one of two approaches to making an adjustment
when parents are enrolled in college. One approach involves increasing
the number in college to include the parents. The other approach
involves subtracting the actual amounts paid for the parent's college
education from income. Adjustments will generally be made only when the
parents are enrolled at least half-time in a degree or certificate
program at a college eligible for federal student aid.
If the parent's tuition is low compared with income, increasing the
number in college will yield a bigger reduction in the EFC. Otherwise
subtracting the tuition from income will yield a bigger reduction in
Note that even if the college makes an adjustment to count the parents
as enrolled in college, there may still be large differences in the
expected family contributions of the student and parent. Parent and
child income and assets are treated differently by the need analysis
formula. Also, the parent's FAFSA will not include child's income and
assets when calculating the parent's EFC because the child isn't
expected to contribute to the parent's college education.