Feeling so lost

There is if scholarship deadlines are earlier than application deadlines.

Otherwise, my oldest attended the first college he applied to. My middle attended the last college he applied to (one he almost didn’t apply to - he decided last minute and considers it “the best decision I almost never made”). My youngest attended the only college he applied to - saving him a ton of time on applications (but not something I really recommend as it doesn’t always work out for finances and acceptance!). There is no single “right” answer for all.

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Ouch. You need to be cautious about need based financial aid if you own a business or if you own a farm. I know multiple farmers, and have talked to a few people who own a small business. Then have all needed to send their children to public in-state universities. None of them happen to live in a WUE state however.

You can apply to some schools that meet “full need”, but do not count on getting enough aid for them to be possible. The really top ranked universities say that they give very good need based financial aid, but when I attended a couple of them I never met anyone whose parents owned a small business or farm and the farmers that I know say that they are not affordable.

Merit aid is of course also worth looking for, particularly given your son’s great stats.

I think that you should look very carefully at the WUE schools. I also just took a quick look at the cost of attendance at the two closest very good Canadian universities to you (Calgary and Lethbridge – the latter is a small school and therefore not as well known) and both came out no worse than about C$40,000 per year, which is about US$32,000 per year.


Well a scholarship deadline is a deadline! :slight_smile:

I hate to say it but @DadTwoGirls raises some good points about owning a business. I am not sure how each school counts that asset/property in addition to income.

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I don’t know what level of school you’re looking for, every type has been tossed around, but there are some Midwest publics that will give in-state rates for good stats, and there are small Midwest privates that get down to around $20K after automatic merit. Mostly ones people here have never heard of. Central College in Iowa for example.

When we were looking, budget was top concern. I would pick a state, go to the Wikipedia list of colleges in that state, and check out the COA and automatic merit on ones that interested us. If something was in range, I then looked at major offerings, ease of travel, etc.

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There are all kinds of small businesses, and there is no one size fits all to how financial aid will view the business.

You are a sole proprietor? You write off your cellphone, car, 20% of your home’s “costs” as your primary office (whose home office takes up 1/5th of the square footage if there’s no inventory?),? Be prepared for a number which will shock you-- but that’s because even if you DIDN’T get all these write-offs, you’d still be paying for a phone, your home…

You operate a small business which involves owning 10 investment properties and renting them out? Be prepared to be shocked. But that’s because even if YOU don’t think so, those properties have value beyond their cash flow-- and you have the ability to sell, borrow against them which a family with the same income as you does not have.

But other types of small businesses- I don’t know a lot of people who have been shocked by their numbers- especially from the “meets full needs” AND generous colleges. And a well crafted appeal (not “give me more money”) which documents some of the realities of the business will go a long way- again, with the meets full needs/generous schools.

I think the disconnect for a LOT of families is expecting an appeal to land with a university like NYU (good luck), or a college which has moved to a “lots of small merit awards” strategy.


@MomofNPCC , you have received good info. Start with a draft of FAFSA. If I recall, both FAFSA and CSS allow one to save their work and return later. I have followed advice of blossom, DadTwoGirls, Creekland, compmom, etc. over the years.

See CSS Profile tutorial https://www.proprofs.com/training/course/?title=the-css-profile_5f465f74e9586&c=1

I think a 2018 Fisk guide is fine for big picture and nuances. Once you narrow down some colleges from whom you’d like more info, their websites should be helpful.



Not sole proprietor, and zero investment properties but this doesn’t sound good if no one owning a small business can get financial aid.

It’s not a definite. It just means many NPCs can be off. It was before NPC’s came into being, but my guy’s offers differed by 33K in what they expected annually from us.

What it means is apply to more schools that you think might work, but don’t have expectations from any - plus keep something (State U?) that you know will work as a bottom line for both finances and acceptance. You don’t need to apply to any he wouldn’t want to attend if paired against that school (likes State U better than X) as long as you are sure of acceptance. Rolling admissions schools that are affordable are great “bottom” lines. (Some students also like those schools as their first choice, so can be finished with the whole college app thing early.)


Re FAFSA: You can download information from your tax return to make things easier. I have a child applying next year so I’m getting educated as well. I’m creating a spreadsheet/making a file of needed documents and information for this and CSS.

For the Common App, kids can get started now and the information rolls over to next year’s app. For instance, they can input their classes and ECs so far.

Re Fiske: A 2018 book can be a start but be aware admission rates and EA/ED may have changed, among other things. Once you’ve identified schools search online for updates. TO also changing the landscape.

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Not accurate. Many kids whose parents (or one parent) own a small business get aid- and often, generous aid which exceeds the family’s expectation. But it does mean as noted above, that the back of the envelope calculation about “how much aid can we expect” is NOT going to be as accurate, first time out, as it could be for two W2 wage earners with simple income and average assets.

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Agree with @blossom and @DadTwoGirls - we have 2 small businesses and did not get much need based aid and could not afford our expected contribution. The only school which looked affordable on the NPC was Princeton, which is known to be much more generous. D was rejected from there, but had multiple affordable merit offers, plus instate school. She is at an OOS flagship that I would never have even had on her long list if it were not for this site. CC really helped in our strategy and not wasting time and $ on unavailable colleges. Best of luck!

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Not to worry. Let’s say your small business is a pizza parlor, and you own the ovens, and maybe the delivery cars, and the furniture in the restaurant, but not the building. You make 100K/yr. The schools don’t expect you to sell your oven to pay for college!

Unfortunately, if you have a rental business, they do expect you to sell or mortgage the properties to pay for college, even though it may not be possible to mortgage the properties, and if you sell, you don’t have income anymore - which would help you on your fin aid two or three years from now, when junior is about done. Oh well…

But in general, they don’t expect you to sell the business or its equipment to pay for college, and schools with embarrassingly large endowments will often be generous with fin aid.

Regarding the fact that the ACT with writing is being offered in your area next month, your student really doesn’t need to sign up for writing portion.

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Thank you. Example 1 is more like us. Not a food though :wink:
We co-own with his sister a 1 shop Automotive business that his father started in the 70’s. The land is leased.
We make enough to get by and Covid has hit us hard but government programs have been immensely helpful in us not having to lay off any of our employees (less than 10). Not as bad as it was for so many because we were an essential business, but definitely not a good year for us. We are hopeful that it will pick up when the weather warms up and people start getting out more.
Also, my health over the last 7 years led to a major drain of personal assets. I am a leukemia survivor who had a bone marrow transplant oos followed by years of out of state graft vs host treatment (medical travel adds up to a lot). I finished that in 2019, but my meds max out my deductible every year.

Be aware that colleges that promise to “meet need” typically have their own definition of EFC and “need” that is not necessarily the same as what FAFSA EFC may suggest.

It is best to use the net price calculator on each college’s web site to get an estimate specific to that college. Note: if the parents are divorced, or the parent finances have income and assets from self-employment, small business, rentals, etc. (other than mainly typical W-2 income and small amounts of ordinary interest and investment income), then doing net price calculators can be more complicated, and some colleges’ net price calculators are less well matched to their actual financial aid practices in these cases.

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Note that, for a college where a merit scholarship is necessary for affordability, the reach/match/likely/safety assessment must be based on the merit scholarship, not admission.

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The CSS has a question about medical expenses. Those are not considered “choices” (in that buying a Honda v. a Jeep is a choice) and are thus not treated the same by most “super generous” colleges’ formulas.
Enter your info (full NPC, not the “quick” one) at Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, Williams, and Swarthmore, for a broad swath of types of super generous schools with different formulas when it comes to property, equity, etc, etc. You’ll notice whether you end up with similar numbers or widely different ones.


In our experience the schools like Harvard (sorry @Southoftheriver !!) were kind of holistic about financial aid as well. I mean, they looked at the whole picture. The CSS Profile has a special circumstances section and you can also communicate with the financial aid officer you are assigned. The leukemia and medical expenses will be included in their deliberations. And not all small business owners have inadequate financial aid.

When my kids got accepted at schools, the first thing I did was talk to the financial aid office. I told the office with my first that I did not want him to come to love the school and then have to leave. They were very helpful.


I apologize if I missed it but I’m surprised no one has referred the OP to this thread:

(not sure if that will translate correctly, but search the site for “advice in merit aid”, and the poster’s name starts with “Kevin”)

I know all kids are different, but seems like there are a lot of similarities here.