Changes in the financial aid after the first year

So, my daughter got accepted into her dream school. I never considered it seriously, because everything I read about it said to expect to pay at least EFC, which would make it unaffordable for us. However, she received a very generous financial aid package from this school. Our out-of-pocket would be about 60% of our EFC, which makes it doable at least for the first year. My concern, however, is what is the possibility that her financial aid will be reduced significantly in the following years, because even if the cost goes up to the EFC, we won’t be able to afford it. Anybody here ended up in such situation and how did you deal with it? I understand that it is just a guess work at this point as to what her package is going to look like in the future, but our income for 2018 went down some and our second child is going to be in college in 2 years. I am mainly interested to see how common it is for financial aid to change significantly after the initial generous offer, if there is no drastic improvement in the family’s financial situation. Or does it usually stay the same? Also, her second option is a full-ride merit scholarship with a significant stipend. I really would hate for her to lose that opportunity, because this is the school where she is going to end up at at full pay, if her dream school does not work out financially.

I am sure there are stories on these forums about unscrupulous colleges who dangled a large FA offer as an enticement and then cut aid back significantly in subsequent years, but I don’t think it is a common occurrence and I cannot imagine any college that cares about its national reputation/ranking doing such a thing maliciously.

However, I had the same concern when my two sons received large need-based offers from different colleges, so I met with multiple people in each FA office with that exact question. In both cases, I was assured that the college was not playing games and the aid would be essentially similar throughout their degree program, barring significant changes in family income, assets, or college financial health.

Which turned out to be true.

It really depends on the school and what the financial aid is. The loans won’t go away and in fact will increase a little each year. Other federal aid like a Pell grant, work study, SEOG will depend on the FAFSA each year.

If the aid from the school is merit, look at the terms of the award. Certain GPA required? Required to live in a dorm? Certain major? If it is need based aid, you need to ask the school what the conditions for renewal are.

My daughter could only go to her chosen school if the merit aid was renewed (2.8 gpa required) and if her athletic aid continued. The coach had promised that the athletic aid would not be reduced. We took the chance that it would work out and it did. She knew she’d have to transfer if funding went away. She knew what she needed to do.

I don’t think you are going to get a better deal. Most schools are going to expect you to pay at least your EFC before awarding need based aid. What’s the worst that can happen, that the aid is cut and she has to transfer? She’s at least have a year or two at the school she likes.

Most of the time, schools do keep the packages pretty much the same if the FAFSA numbers are the same. You should specifically ask the financial aid officer about their policy, however, and ask them to summarize in an email.

Be aware, however, that schools tend to require their upper classmen to take on more of the cost of college as they move up in the ranks. The student EFC tends to rise at most all schools, even the most generous. Also, costs go up. THe Direct Loan amounts also rise. So, yes, the costs will tend to get higher and she will be expected to shoulder more of the cost.

Also, at many schools, the upperclassmen tend to move off campus or into apartments on campus. Depending upon the school, this can be an increase or decrease in costs. Schools like UB in an area of Buffalo that has plentiful cheap rents and grocery store options offer an opportunity to save some money when the kids go off campus, and most of them do that . There is quite the student ghetto there. Pitt is another such school. But if you are talking NYU or USC or some other schools, where there just aren’t cheap housing options available and upper class housing more expensive, there will be a rise in costs.


Does your kid’s college guarantee to meet full need for all? If so, when you have a second student in college, you have the potential to have increased need based aid at this school. But you would also have an additional college student to pay for!

At most colleges that don’t guarantee to meet full need, they will tell you that if your financial situation doesn’t change much, your aid will be about the same from year to year. You can certainly contact the college financial aid office and ask this question…but you are likely not to get a more definitive answer.

It is very possible that your student contribution will increase…but your student should be able to work on the summers and during school to cover the student contribution. But really…it’s not likely that the student contribution will increase to the amount of your FAFSA EFC.

BUT I do need to add…a merit award does not take your family finances into consideration at all…but there will be a gpa requirement to keep the award.

You are fortunate to have these options. Both sound affordable…but I will say…with a second student going to college in two years, that full ride merit award with stipend is very much worth considering. There aren’t all that many awards like this given to students. So…well worth considering.

Could you please clarify this @alikath.

Is the second choice a full ride merit award…or is it a place where you will be full pay??

Full- ride is the smart option especially since this is her second choice. Dream schools don’t always end up being the dream in reality. Full ride takes away the stress for both parent and child. If you think there is a risk that your child might have to transfer down the road it is just not worth it.

I missed this in the OP. Take it. Even if the dream school is for 4 years, sounds like you’d have to pay a significant amount at that school.

When my daughter was looking at colleges a couple years ago, American University was the only school we came across with red flags for significantly reducing aid after the first year. What seemed to be common at a lot of schools was that the financial aid stayed exactly the same, while the tuition, fees, room and board all increased. I think the expectation is that the family’s income should also be increasing, but as we all know, the increase in college costs have been exceeding increases in wages.

Something else to think about in making the decision: What additional opportunities will be available to your daughter if she takes the award with the stipend? Does going to dream school mean having a work study job, while going to full ride school means being able to participate in a wide range of extracurricular activities (or joining Greek life)? Is she in a field of study in which unpaid internships are the norm and that stipend will come in handy for covering the cost of room and board during the summer? Does she want to study abroad? It’s not always just about the cost of tution; there’s more to consider when a fantastic offer like full ride + stipend is on the table.

I would take the full ride offer (our kids do :wink: )

Google universities that front load financial aid and you can find articles like this one:

Why is the “dream school” the dream? Because she wants to major in civil engineering, and dream school has it but back up school doesn’t? Or because “Dream school” allows non-majors to take dance classes or participate in chamber music ensembles and back up school does not? Or because “dream school” has nicer sorority houses and gives better parties?

Some things are worth paying for- especially if the college does not have a reputation for bait and switch. And some things are not worth paying more for (in my opinion).

@Alikath - please give both schools FA offices a call and ask them how you might expect the FA to change in future years, based on YOUR FAMILY’'s situation - if there are older siblings also in college that will graduate , you should generally expect once they graduate, the younger sibling’s FA will be reduced and the family contribution increased.

You mentioned in your post that you have a second child who will be college-bound in 2 years. So the school probably is treating you as a family of 4, and for your first child, you likely will be a family of 4 for all 4 years. Some schools calculate need based aid differently when a family of 4 has 2 in college vs. having only 1 in college - but it varies.

If you have an only child, the schools should be able to tell you how they typically treat tuition and fee increase from year to year - is that generally expected to be covered by the family, or is additional FA available.

Schools that give great financial aid are typically very understanding of these family concerns, and they are happy to help explain their policies.

It sounds like your first child is a great student who may have multiple affordable options - but what you might not be counting on is the impact to your second child’s last 2 years of school - as a family of 3 then, you may find that you are not able to pay equally for both children. This can present family challenges - the oldest might expect equal is fair, but if you have to pay more for the youngest they might think differently.

So as this process is new to you and your family - as the schools to help you think about where you’ll be in 6 or 7 years. Of course, you may hit PowerBall before then, or receive a hefty inheritance, but you may also have income changes or other expenses that are temporary. The schools should be able to give you a decent idea as to where you might be if both your children attend the same school. And like most families, you may end up with a lot of debt, but having children well on their way to success

Best of luck through this process - and congratulations!

Thank you everybody for your comments! Lots of great insights and things to consider! Sounds like drastic changes to financial aid are not likely, but some increase in cost is. Just to clarify the situation:
@thumper1 The second school is a full ride for now, but she is not eligible for any need-based aid there. I assume she is going to lose the full ride, if she takes the other offer. So, if she has to come back home, its going to be full pay at that point.
@scubadive The full ride is actually not her second choice. It is just a second financially viable option and she is less than excited about it. If it was up to me, I still would take it, though.
@blossom Dream school is a dream school primarily for the quality of education and I’ve got to agree that it is a better academic fit for her. She wants more flexibility in choosing the courses and opportunity to explore areas outside of her major. And she’ll be able to get involved in research right away, which is a big plus for her field. And she is getting 80% off of 72K/year school. The second school has limited opportunities for all of this and I am concerned that it is not going to be challenging enough for her, though it is a decent school.
@My3Kiddos If I am honest about it, the additional opportunities of the full ride are mainly the financial benefits for the family. For me, being a first generation immigrant, it is huge. For my daughter, not so much. She feels like she is going to miss out on lots of opportunities to advance her career, if she chooses the full ride school. Also, convincing her to take the full ride will pretty much ensure that her sister will go to her dream college and she does not think it is fair that she should give up her dream school when she worked so hard to get where she is at.
@3puppies Thank you! And we are going to visit the first school next week and I’ll make sure to talk to the people in FA and we’ll go from there.

What career is she advancing? She is a HS senior who could change her career goals many times over before she declares a college major.

Can you afford the “dream school”? If not…it will become a nightmare…and especially so if you realize the costs aren’t sustainable and she has to transfer.

Just be realistic.

@thumper1 She feels that being able to work as a research assistant and having a faculty mentor is going to give her a head start at least with getting internships and getting into a good grad school even if her career goals change and I tend to agree with her on that. As to whether we can afford it, this is what I am trying to figure out. At the current level of financial aid we can, but I do realize that she got more aid than she should have according to their own NPC.

Grad school…in what?

One thing to consider is the most basic jobs can lead to opportunity. Its a launchpad to the next thing. There are many ways to go about this. A HS job led to a great internship which led to great job offers and very wel paying. Few kids work in hs school and it was a big leg up getting that position at a very name brand company.

@thumper1 Biochem for now. I realize it can change, but I think it will be something is the realm of life sciences either way.

My D chose to take a full ride at our state flagship in science over other good(higher ranked), but not free options . She excelled and managed to do research and even publish there. She is now headed to Stanford for her PhD in Chem. Being at the top of the pool of students provides many, many opportunities.

@Alikath Why does she believe she can get involved in research and have a professor mentor at the dream school but that that opportunity would not exist at the scholarship school?

My kids have all attended public Us (and a couple of very large flagships). They have easily gotten involved in research and have had great mentorships. They have had professors who were genuinely interested in developing their skill sets and offering guidance toward their futures. One went to Alabama for physics (definitely NOT a physics powerhouse!!!). His UG research and mentorship were excellent. He is now at a top 5 grad program in his desired field.

I think high school students’ understanding of what it is like at various colleges is inaccurate. I suspect many high school students if they had been my ds would have thought Bama was “beneath them” and wouldn’t offer them peers or appropriate levels of academics. (My ds graduated from high school ready to take both 300 and 400 level physics his freshman yr.) Both presumptions would have been wrong. He had a great peer group and he was able to take grad level courses as an UG.