Mothers across the U.S. have 2.42 children on average, according to a 2018 analysis from the Pew Research Center. So it wouldn’t be unusual to end up with two children in college at the same time.
But paying for two undergraduate educations could be challenging. Fortunately, your financial aid eligibility will be adjusted accordingly.
Here’s what you need to know about filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) with two students in college (or more) to make sure you receive federal grants, student loans, and work-study.
How to submit the FAFSA with 2 students in college (or more)
Having two kids in college at the same time can be a big financial challenge for any family. But by staying on top of important paperwork, such as the FAFSA, you can ensure you qualify for federal and nonfederal financial aid.
Here are five steps you can take to get started.
1. File a separate FAFSA for each child
The FAFSA is the key to getting federal financial aid, so it’s crucial to file it correctly. In this case, you can’t submit just one FAFSA with two students in college. Instead, you must submit a FAFSA for each child who’s in school.
“There is no need to fill out one FAFSA form for multiple students since each student will have their own,” said Derek Hagen, a certified financial planner who runs Hagen Financial.
Each FAFSA, furthermore, will reflect all your assets and savings, not just the accounts designated for certain children.
“If you have college savings accounts set up, such as 529 plans, you must report the aggregate total of all savings accounts on each individual FAFSA form,” said David Bakke, a personal finance expert at Money Crashers.
So even though your child’s information on each FAFSA might look different, your personal and financial information will pretty much stay the same.
2. Easily transfer your financial information to both forms
FAFSA makes it easy to transfer your information from one application to another.
First, you will fill out one FAFSA and hit submit. At this point, you’ll see a confirmation page.
“Once you get the confirmation, there should be a link that allows you to transfer your already entered parent information to the next FAFSA, so you’ll just have to fill out the student information,” said Hagen.
Specifically, this link will say, “Transfer your parents’ information into a new FAFSA.” By clicking this link, your information will autopopulate into the next application.
3. Make sure everyone gets their own FSA ID
While the FAFSA is your key to federal financial aid, your FSA ID is your key to the FAFSA. This ID is unique to you, and it serves as your legal signature.
Both students and at least one parent need their own FSA IDs to submit the FAFSA. So if you’ve got two children in college, you will need at least three FSA IDs — one for you and one for each of your kids.
That’s how the U.S. Department of Education can keep track of multiple FAFSA forms in one family. Each will be tied to a student’s FSA ID, which is unique to each individual.
4. Your EFC will go down, so you’ll be eligible for more aid
After submitting the FAFSA, you and your kids will get a Student Aid Report (SAR). Among other information, your SAR will reveal your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or the amount your family is expected to contribute toward college.
If you’ve got more than one student in college, your EFC will go down accordingly. As a result, each child will be eligible for more financial aid from their college.
“Having multiple children enrolled at the same time reduces your EFC, which could qualify you for more financial aid at schools that offer need-based financial aid,” said Hagen.
That said, not all colleges dole out financial aid in the same way.
“One school might meet 100% of a student’s need,” said Mike Bink, founder and director of college planning for Equivest Financial Advisors. “Another school, however, may approach giving aid differently where the sibling might not make a significant impact. I always recommend to my clients that we try to understand how a school’s aid office will treat their siblings with respect to offering aid as early in the process as possible.”
By researching each college’s financial aid policy, you and your children can try to select schools that work with your family’s budget.
5. Check with each college for any extra steps
Besides submitting the FAFSA with two students in college, you might need to take more steps to snag financial aid. Some colleges, for instance, require the CSS Profile for nonfederal aid.
Make sure to check with each school to see about any other information you need to provide. Besides paperwork, it’s also a good idea to encourage your kids to apply for scholarships.
Scholarships can go a long way toward reducing college costs. Your kids can use online scholarship search tools or ask their school counselor about local opportunities. The more scholarships they win, the less they will have to borrow in student loans.
If your kids still have a gap in funding, they might consider taking out private student loans to cover costs. Before they do, make sure you go over the terms and conditions. Use our student loan repayment calculator so your children have a clear sense of what repayment will look like.
Borrowing money to attend school can be a worthwhile investment in your education and future. But you want to avoid taking on too much debt, so make sure your family discusses a financial plan before taking on student loans.
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