Why did I get no Financial Aid? Columbia University

I have heard that Columbia University has a good Financial Aid program, and even family who may not expect to recieve aid sometimes do. My family filled out the FAFSA and CSS, and I ended up recieving no aid. My mom is an elementary school teacher and my dad is retired. It is true we have a lot of savings and some assets, but I am surprised that they were considered enough to offer me no aid, as I have heard that recieving no aid is very uncommon, and I don’t think my family has that level of wealth.
My EFC was around 130,000.
Do you think I should try to see if I can get more aid? Or is it fair?

With an EFC of 130K, no FA should be expected. Assets are taken into account when calculating need. They will not give you more aid.


It was the assets and savings. Do you have other options that are less expensive for you?

You could try. Don’t expect to succeed, though. As for the fairness question, that really depends on how you look at it. Your parents may not think it’s fair at all if, for instance, they are counting on their nest egg that they spent their entire life to build to generate enough income to retire on.

I would say that you just got introduced to marketing. Just because Columbia makes people believe they offer great fin aid (to get people to apply) doesn’t mean they offer great fin aid to everyone. I believe the Ivies tend to be about half full-pay.

You sure are right about the marketing issue. I had heard, and in fact, read, that BU was not great on aid. And I know that BU has gone from a not very selective school 40 yrs ago, to a quite selective one now. We must have triggered some sort of advertising cookie, because shortly after we started the search, we had banner ads popping up all over the internet, touting “Merit scholarships for test-optional students!” And I knew that BU is not giving out tons of merit money. It was pretty easy to see that what they were doing was attempting to increase their submitted applications, and goose their numbers.

But I do believe that most of the Ivies have gone to lots of fin aid for middle class families - full ride for under 60-80K/yr, and 10% of income for under 180K/yr. But certainly, if the family has substantial savings and assets, they’re gonna take that into account.

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BU can be very generous with merit- IF you happen to be the student/students they are looking for to meet a particular objective.

And an EFC of 180K- boy, those are a LOT of assets if you are in a one wage earner family, OP!


One mistake that many people make is that they include the value of their official retirement savings (401k) with their non-retirement savings. Official retirement savings are excluded from financial aid calculations. Non-official savings are not – even if they are intended for retirement.

You may want to double-check if your family reported official retirement savings incorrectly. If they did, that could make a big difference in your EFC.


With an EFC of $130,000 it is not likely your family will receive need-based aid from any university in America.

You may qualify for merit-based aid at many universities. Unfortunately, I don’t think Columbia awards many merit-based scholarships. I just skimmed their financial aid pages and it appears most of their institutionally-applied aid money is dependent on special factors, like being an adopted child, or being a resident of Iowa, and other things.

If Columbia is truly unaffordable, you should immediately consider other schools and set aside the dream of Columbia. On the other hand, it may be that Columbia is affordable if your parents choose to use a sliver of their ample assets to pay for it. Whether or not you attend Columbia will ultimately come down to how much your parents wish to spend for your education.

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the efc explains it all… which means they are expecting you to contribute 130k a year for school (according to fafsa)


Columbia doesn’t give any merit aid.

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Did one or both of your parents do a retirement rollover in 2019? If so, there is a little box to check on the FAFSA anyway that indicates this. Otherwise, it’s added in as income. If this happened, you need to contact the college and they will need to make that correction.

A $130,000 family contribution per FAFSA would mean a huge amount of income and or assets. Are you sure you entered everything correctly on both financial aid forms? Print them out and look at each entry. Was a $10,000 entry made as $100,000? It’s an easy mistake to make.

Do you have student income and assets? Check and make sure you didn’t enter parent assets and income in the student section.

Do your parents own real estate in addition to your primary residence? Rental properties?


Some people may have the bulk of their retirement savings outside of a tax-advantaged account. For example, a small business owner who sold their small business for $2M, figuring that that should be enough for retirement (at a 4% draw rate, that would mean $80k/year so not exactly living large). But if a college expects you to contribute 6% of assets per year, your EFC would be $120k even with no income.


Part of the issue is that on the CSS you need to list non-liquid assets & things such as home value or business interests/family farms owned with siblings will be counted. Even though these are things that you cannot always access the funds from immediately, even if you tried (ex you cannot find a buyer for your home or business) - colleges treat it as though you have that cash on hand.
This has made the Ivies and other institutions that do not give merit aid -unattainable for those who fall into the “donut hole” financially. Unfortunately, this is not often understood until it is too late and dreams can be dashed, putting parents in very uncomfortable positions. I agree the schools and their marketing are somewhat to blame. It is a negative outcome from schools going to “need” only aid. The way the schools decide who is “needy” is flawed in my opinion. It would be nice if they would just lower the price for everyone, but this will not happen.


No, the Ivies are not the problem for the donut families- their aid is generous to begin with, and their financial aid officers are very savvy if you need to file for special circumstances (and have the documentation). The problem is that folks apply to out of state public U’s and are shocked that they get no aid (out of state means you haven’t been paying taxes in that state, sorry) and private U’s that don’t have the Ivy league endowments and are NOT Meets Full Need schools. That’s the donut hole.

An EFC of over 100K is NOT a donut hole family!!!


Again, it comes down to definitions. A family may be retired on $2M with very little income besides capital gains and dividends/interest from that amount. That sum would provide for a decent retirement (if little in the way of SS or from retirement accounts or pensions or a house) of $80k/year. But it certainly would not be enough to put 2/3 kids spaced 4 years apart through full-pay privates without jeopardizing the nest egg that’s suppose to see them through retirement.


Is that per year? Regarding the number for efc

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It is unlikely that the EFC is $130,000 per year, as Columbia’s COA is around $80,000 per year.

This family is retired. One still working spouse- so there’s cash flow in addition to the retirement savings. No indication that there is zero pension, or zero social security.

Could we stick to the facts in evidence?


EFC can equal anything. It’s not tied to COA. I’ve regularly seen six figure FAFSA EFCs.


Actually, the EFC can be in excess of the cost of attendance. The net cost to the student won’t be in excess of the cost of attendance…but the FAFSA EFC most definitely can be.