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Colleges Who Say They Will "Meet Financial Need"


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Posted (edited)

Help! 😁 Speak slowly because this stuff always confuses me. We've not needed the information since my kids got specific scholarships that sort of canceled out the need to know this information. However, I'm now helping a friend of my son, who will be applying to school next year.

We used a school's financial calculator this evening, using his parents' tax information. This is a CSS Profile School and says they will "meet demonstrated financial need." The "expected family contribution" at the end of that calculator gave us around $12,300 as the EFC.

But, the "Total Due" at the end (after subtracting $ for ACT/SAT scholarship, some grant money, and the $3,000 federal loan) said the balance was $24,837.

If the family's "EFC" is only $12,300, how is the balance due $24,837?

Obviously I'm missing something super obvious, so obviously I'm asking for some obvious help. 🤭😅 🥴

Dealing with these huge numbers has always confused me, so I've been grateful that my kids were able to secure scholarships that either put the Balance Due at $0 or a nice, round number I could deal with.

DS's friend isn't likely going to have that kind of luck. He's a strong student (4.+ GPA, 33-34 ACT, good student with lots of APs) but not a lot of extracurriculars other than his sport (which isn't a DI sport, unfortunately... because he's amazing), white-bread kid with no catchy hooks/life story/volunteer hours other than his sport success and lots and lots and lots of outdoor, camping time and probably a lot of party-dude skillz, lol. So - we're not expecting any of the large, competitive scholarships to work out for him (not that he won't apply if/when possible...).

So, he has a list of schools and we're sorting them out and digging through the calculators to see which schools he can already scratch off his list, and which are worth applying to. He wants to go out of state.

Edited by easypeasy
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Without seeing the price calculator, things like indirect costs come to mind. These are expenses like transportation and personal costs that come up, but aren't paid to the college. 

Where did the student indicate they would be living? The difference is around the average for room and board. The college might exclude that from aid or the family might have checked a box for living off campus. 

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They may "Meet Financial Need" by making loans available to the student or their parents.  If it is a CSS School it may be something on the CSS.  The differential looks like it might be the cost of Room and Board. It seems too low to be the differential between in-state and out-of-state (OOS) tuition for a public school requiring the CSS Profile.

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8 hours ago, easypeasy said:

If the family's "EFC" is only $12,300, how is the balance due $24,837?

Obviously I'm missing something super obvious, so obviously I'm asking for some obvious help. 🤭😅 🥴

 

We had this exact same thing happen at CSS schools dd applied to, including the one that was 'meet full needs'.  The balance to 'meet needs' was pretty much exactly 2x our FAFSA-calculated EFC.  The thing you have to understand about CSS schools is that they make their own 'need' calculations - they pay pretty much Zero attention to the FAFSA EFC.

We had twins, and since it was double our EFC, I thought maybe they'd missed that piece of info.  So I called and inquired.  I was told that this was correct, and I asked how they'd come up with this huge number, and was told that even though we had no second home and old crappy cars and no yacht or anything, we had paid off our house, so had no mortgage (this is how we'd tried to save for college instead of the more common pre-tax savings plan).  So they figured we had all that equity to take out a big home equity loan to pay for college (no explanation how we were supposed to ever pay it back, since dh would be in his 60s when the kids were done with school - or how we were supposed to fund the other two kids we also had to put through college).  Also, we'd had the gall to actually try to save for retirement.  Yep, we should raid that retirement fund and use it to pay for college.  Again, no explanation how we'd then have any savings for retirement.  We were told that we had 'choices'.  I told them I 'chose' not to live in my car eating cat food in my old age.  And dd went to another school which got down the costs to the actual FAFSA EFC.

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We had similar numbers for the "Meets need" schools. Basically, from their POV, if you don't have debt, you don't have need. We don't have debt, so are expected to drain our savings and take on debt. Ironically, my kid ended up choosing a school that gave a better financial package with full reciprocity with the school that wanted us to pay twice as much. The CSS profile gave us a EFC that was approximately half our yearly family income. 

 

 

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Yep. The term meet financial need is ridiculous because schools define financial need however they want to.  Neither our FAFSA only or profile estimates were remotely realistic to what we could comfortably pay.   Like a financial advisor recommended we spend about a THIRD of our EFC.  So it's just good to know that up front and search accordingly to keep working toward retirement, our 2nd kid will be attending college too, etc.  The fact is many/most of us are heavily constrained by finances in terms of our kid's college choices.  So just understand that up front and focus on realistic options.  My kid would have loved to go to a school on the coast.  My kid had very high test scores and a pretty interesting EC profile.  Well guess what, he's in a neighboring state because that's what came up extra affordable and debt free for him.  So I'd work on gently talking this kid down.  This doesn't mean he can't go out of state of course, but kids with 33+ ACT scores often get excited about particular high buck schools (like my own kid) and that doesn't sound realistic for his situation.  I'd try and steer him toward options that would keep him in under federal loan limits for undergrads.   There are some schools that may add in additional merit with those kind of test scores.  

Also had an EFC that was around half annual income.  LOLOL.  Very funny schools.  

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2 minutes ago, FuzzyCatz said:

Yep. The term meet financial need is ridiculous because schools define financial need however they want to.  Neither our FAFSA only or profile estimates were remotely realistic to what we could comfortably pay.   Like a financial advisor recommended we spend about a THIRD of our EFC.  So it's just good to know that up front and search accordingly to keep working toward retirement, our 2nd kid will be attending college too, etc.  The fact is many/most of us are heavily constrained by finances in terms of our kid's college choices.  So just understand that up front and focus on realistic options.  My kid would have loved to go to a school on the coast.  My kid had very high test scores and a pretty interesting EC profile.  Well guess what, he's in a neighboring state because that's what came up extra affordable and debt free for him.  So I'd work on gently talking this kid down.  This doesn't mean he can't go out of state of course, but kids with 33+ ACT scores often get excited about particular high buck schools (like my own kid) and that doesn't sound realistic for his situation.  I'd try and steer him toward options that would keep him in under federal loan limits for undergrads.   There are some schools that may add in additional merit with those kind of test scores.  

Also had an EFC that was around half annual income.  LOLOL.  Very funny schools.  

Yeah, my dd who applied to these schools had a 34 ACT, and she was going into computer science and math, so we thought she might be 'desirable' and get good aid.  She did get in everywhere she applied, but these CSS schools still wanted her to fork over the big bucks.

She ended up choosing a state school with a good coop program, and while the coursework may not have been as stimulating as the shishi schools, the coops were great and she is now very happily and gainfully employed after graduating.   There was another non-CSS school that we could have afforded if she took loans, but she liked the no-loan option, lol.

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Posted (edited)
22 minutes ago, Matryoshka said:

Yeah, my dd who applied to these schools had a 34 ACT, and she was going into computer science and math, so we thought she might be 'desirable' and get good aid.  She did get in everywhere she applied, but these CSS schools still wanted her to fork over the big bucks.

She ended up choosing a state school with a good coop program, and while the coursework may not have been as stimulating as the shishi schools, the coops were great and she is now very happily and gainfully employed after graduating.   There was another non-CSS school that we could have afforded if she took loans, but she liked the no-loan option, lol.

My kid ended up at a top 15 public with reciprocity for our state (+ a really rare half tuition scholarship).  It's actually a top 15 for one of his majors too.  I think the low to no debt option is so powerful!  SO much more flexibility to choose a path when you graduate whether that be moving cross country, joining the peace corp, applying to grad school, being pickier about job selection, etc etc etc.  

Even some less competitive privates like those on the CTCL list were going to be 10K more a year for us, I thought he would end up at one of those.   It really pays to do your homework!

Edited by FuzzyCatz
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Posted (edited)

With ACT scores like that I am a big fan of targeting schools with automatic scholarships that make the school affordable. Then you go for more competitive scholarships and maybe try a “needs met” school but have that safety school with automatic scholarships a priority.
 

33-34 ACT is really good. But, the hard truth is there are a lot of kids with those scores and schools just don’t need students enough to hand over alot of money. So while those are top tier scores the raw number of those kind of kids are pretty high and not so “special” in the college admissions game. The skeptic in me says those schools are just as happy to have a kid with a 32 who is willing to pay. 
 

The good news is those test scores are good enough for automatic money at a lot of state schools. So with a little legwork and an open mind a student like that can find a decent deal. My theory is that any student who can get admitted to a “needs met” school is strong enough to get scholarships that make a less fancy school a good deal. But it does require some digging to identify the school that will work and an open mind to a lower ranked school. 

Edited by teachermom2834
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Posted (edited)

Thanks, everybody. I feel better knowing I'm not alone in being initially confused by this. Your explanations helped tremendously; I do appreciate it. We had a long conversation today and I think this kid has a spark after all...

There are a few complications to his application: a paid off house and $$$$ in the bank (that will be used next year to buy a new house... but the CSS won't know that. I'm trying to convince them to buy sooner, rather than later, if the market chills out soon...). They own their own business, never went to college, and are super busy, which is why I'm helping him out.

The good news is that he's really not a super picky/school-snobby kid. He has a pretty basic engineering major in mind and a few location-specific requirements (for his sport) and he really does want to go out of state (I don't blame him) - but has to remain close to a coach/team/training facility (there is potential for the next Olympics, if he makes up his mind to do the work).

It's a new learning experience for me! I ran away from understanding the financial calculators as long as I could and each of my kids started to get big scholarship offers before we had to get down to the nitty gritty of actual costs of college, so I'm woefully inexperienced on this particular aspect.

He has a 33 ACT right now and is taking it at least two more times. At home, his practice tests are in the 35 range, he told me today. Not that that'll make much difference over a 34, but... 🙂

(And color me shocked. This kid is sweet, but comes off as quite an airhead. lol! Just shows you can't judge a book by its cover! He's just always been sooooo chilllllllllll. My son says that information just soaks into his brain and he never forgets a thing. But... soooooo chillllllll about it. I've "known" him as a friend of ds's for years and had no idea he was smart (DS goes camping & boating/skiing with him a lot - he has a lot of friends I only sort of know, lol). I just thought he was the Chief Party Dude and Chick Magnet (which he is - both...). 😅 DS says when he shows up for Honors Society/AP student stuff the other students are always surprised to see him there, but they find out that he has highest GPA in the class & is apparently in line to be valedictorian of his very large high school without anyone other than the hs counselor realizing it.

Last year, a teacher wrote him up for suspected cheating at the beginning of the year (pre-Covid - so over a year ago?) and he had to stay and take a new short-answer test alone with the teacher and the principal in the room plus write an essay from scratch. He aced it and the teacher said it was probably the most thoughtful essay he's ever read. He wrote the kid a letter of apology and complimented him on his writing and has mentored him since, encouraging him to enter essay competitions that the kid hasn't bothered to do, lol.

I guess the kid isn't quite as white-bread boring as he makes himself out to be. He'll have to work some of this into his essays - he might have a hook after all! I'm going to have to sit down with him and ask him more questions since there's more than meets the eye. I have a feeling we're just scratching the surface. Olympic training, effortless valedictorian, and suspected cheating proved wrong doesn't equal "no hook, I'm boring" to me.

And I think that teacher or principal should be who is writing his LoR if he hasn't asked him already...)

(also - realizing that none of this will necessarily help him attain a huge merit/competitive scholarship since he really hasn't "done" anything other than his sport - but it should help ensure his acceptance at most schools he'll apply to... but if it came down to an interview, he's a pretty darn good conversationalist)

Edited by easypeasy
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Haven't read all the other replies so I may be repeating, but CSS schools meet "what they consider" to be your need, which is often higher than the EFC provided by FAFSA and what you feel you can comfortable afford. Also, there are some schools (like the one my D attended freshman year) that are known for reducing the need-based aid in year two. If you want to check a specific school, go to this site: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/ 

Enter the name of a college, then click on its “Financial Aid” tab. This will produce a pair of tables, one labeled “Full-time Beginning Undergraduate Students,” meaning freshmen…the other “All Undergraduate Students.” Look for the lines labeled “Grant or Scholarship Aid,” then compare the average amount for freshmen to the average amount for all undergraduates.

If the gap is greater than $500 to $1,000, there’s a good chance that your aid could decrease after freshman year.

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Posted (edited)

If you are looking at private schools, you not only need to look at schools that "meet full need" but that are also very generous with their definition of need. Franklin & Marshall, Holy Cross and University of Richmond were 3 that we pursued for my daughter based on our financial circumstances.

All three put a much heavier emphasis on income vs. assets in their calculations of need. So, savings for retirement or a paid-off home are not deal-breakers if your income is on the lower end. I have found the individual school net price calculators to be pretty accurate for each of my kids. 

Without seeing the actual calculations you are talking about, it is hard to say what is going on there, but something doesn't sound right if the $12,000 is the specific school's EFC and balance due is that much higher. I would expect the school's calculation of the EFC to be pretty close to what they were asking you to pay if they "meet full need".

The issue is usually that the school's idea of "meeting full need" is very different from the parents. Not that there is a huge discrepancy between the school's calculation of need and what they are then asking you to pay. 

Edited by Mom0012
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Posted (edited)
17 hours ago, teachermom2834 said:

<snip>The skeptic in me says those schools are just as happy to have a kid with a 32 who is willing to pay. <snip>

Oh absolutely.  These admissions departments know how to skew things to a certain income level.  

Example, UPenn, 20% of students admitted are from families earning over 630K (top 1%), 70% in the top 20% of income levels, average income $195,000.  

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/college-mobility/university-of-pennsylvania

Edited by FuzzyCatz
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On 5/17/2021 at 11:52 AM, Dmmetler said:

We had similar numbers for the "Meets need" schools. Basically, from their POV, if you don't have debt, you don't have need. We don't have debt, so are expected to drain our savings and take on debt. Ironically, my kid ended up choosing a school that gave a better financial package with full reciprocity with the school that wanted us to pay twice as much. The CSS profile gave us a EFC that was approximately half our yearly family income. 

 

 

Emory, by any chance? The FA package DS was offered by Emory was his worst by far; I was pretty surprised, but I suspect it's because they hit home equity really hard. Not everyone does. 

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