Do You Get More Financial Aid if You Have Dependents?

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As any adult student can tell you, budgeting can be difficult if you’re putting yourself through college and holding down a job. Common sense says it’s even more difficult to hold down a job, work on a degree and support a family. Fortunately for families, the Department of Education considers the extra burden of supporting dependents when it calculates its financial aid awards. Although supporting dependents may not guarantee you’ll receive more financial aid, it’s likely to help most families secure support.

Expected Family Contribution

When any student applies for financial aid, the Department of Education collects financial data using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine a family’s ability to pay for college. The FAFSA measures income, savings, family size and the number of students in a household attending college, and then compares this to its figures for projected cost of attendance at the student’s college or technical institute. Using these two measures, the department computes a student’s expected family contribution, or EFC. The department then provides financial aid to cover the difference between the student’s EFC and the cost of attendance.

EFC Calculations and Dependents

The formula the Department of Education uses to determine a student’s EFC weighs many factors, but directly addresses family size in its income protection allowance calculations. Essentially, a student’s income protection allowance measures how much is needed to maintain living conditions for a family of its size. The department deducts that amount from a family's resources when it considers the student's ability to pay for college, and it serves as a baseline for family expenses when determining expected family contributions. For each dependent in the home, a student receives about $5,000 in additional student aid (as of 2011) before other costs influence the award.

Limits on Types of Aid

Although a student with dependents may qualify for a higher amount of financial aid, family size may not directly affect grant awards, which don’t need to be repaid. A student may only receive $5,500 in Pell Grant awards per academic year, and those who receive Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants may only receive $4,000 each year. Supporting additional dependents may result in larger amounts for Stafford loans, work-study awards or other types of financial aid.

Merit-Based Awards

The Department of Education administers financial aid on the basis of financial need only. Many private organizations and universities offer students merit-based financial aid, rewarding students for exemplary academic performance, artistic talents, community service efforts or athletic accomplishments. Each private scholarship selection committee uses its own criteria to award financial aid, so additional dependents may not influence a student’s chances to receive merit-based awards.

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