Why 2 Students in a Family May Be Better Than 1

If your career change requires you to go back to school right around the time another member of your family is also headed off to college, timing it such that you’re both in school at the same time might increase your financial aid eligibility.

For example, in an earlier post this month, I linked to an article about a dad who, after many years producing TV ads, wants to become a physician’s assistant — a career change requiring him to complete a 2-year degree program.  While his kids are still preschoolers, if one or both of them happened to be approaching college age, he might find that syncing up his return to school could make education costs more affordable.

No doubt, having a primary breadwinner out of the work force at the same time kids are in college is a daunting prospect for many families, out of the question for others.  But with the way recent economic events have been affecting job prospects, it might not be as unlikely a scenario as an initial glance would suggest.  In fact, with the job market so unstable, it might end up being the best course of action for some.

Still, if you take this path, know that while the strategy described here absolutely can work, getting it right can be a tricky proposition, according to my conversations with college planning expert Todd Weaver of Strategies for College, Inc.  That’s because financial aid eligibility is determined on a “per institution” basis, and some are more flexible than others.  In particular:

  • Many colleges only factor a student into the financial aid equation if he or she is pursuing a degree-based or certificate-granting program.
  • Some insist that the student be attending on at least a part-time basis, typically 6 credit hours per semester.  (i.e. One class a semester usually doesn’t cut it.)
  • Some require “in room” instruction, whereas others will also consider online programs.
  • “For profit” schools may be less generous with scholarships, and lean more toward student loans.

Todd also confirmed my suspicion that, if you save up enough cash to support yourself during time out of work, that might work against your financial aid eligibility, as would applying so late in the college admission process that financial aid awards have mostly already been used up.  BUT nothing is carved in stone, and you might be surprised at what you’re eligible for.  So what to do, if this opportunity looks like it might apply to you?

  • Visit the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculator on the Strategies for College site to run the numbers and gain some insight into how your family’s financial aid situation might play out for a few “What if” scenarios.
  • Always, always, always submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), even if you are convinced you are ineligible.  As we’ve seen too often in the last year, circumstances can change dramatically in the blink of an eye.
  • Plan far enough in advance so that you meet the financial aid deadlines with plenty of time to spare.

About the author

Sherrill St. Germain, CFP®

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