7 Weeks To Make Your College Decisions


This is a stressful time for teenagers and parents who are waiting for acceptances. Or who are trying to decide what the ultimate college choice will be. Or who are wondering how they are going to pay for a school when their financial aid package is inadequate.

Today I want to share some conversations that I’ve had at my gym with stressed-out moms of high school seniors, who have about seven weeks left to make their final decisions.

Every Sunday morning at my exercise class I’ve been talking to an emotionally drained mom, whose brilliant daughter is trying to decide whether she will ultimately go to Rice University or Scripps College.

Every time the subject comes up I make a pitch for Scripps College. A friend of mine, who is a college counselor at a prominent private high school in San  Diego, usually saunters up during the conversation and also gives her opinion:   Scripps! We all agreed that Rice is an excellent institution, but that the girl’s opportunities, in our opinion, are superior at Scripps.


Rice University

Women’s colleges are incredible institutions. When graduates of women’s colleges are polled they are happier with their college experience than women who attend coed liberal arts colleges. Women graduates of coed liberal arts colleges, by the way, are happier with their educational experience than women who attend universities. Graduates of women’s colleges also attend grad school in greater numbers.

Among all of the nation’s women’s colleges, Scripps students enjoy the singular opportunity to attend coed classes literally a minute’s walk away at the other excellent Claremont schools (Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd and Pitzer).  If you want to learn more about the beauty of attending a women’s college (I didn’t intend this to be the purpose of this post) check out the website of The Women’s College Coalition) and a previous post of mine Ditching Boys: Why Attending a Woman’s College Is a Great Idea.

The Perfect School Doesn’t Exist


Scripps College

The agonizing that this young woman and her parents are experiencing isn’t any different than what families across the country are experiencing.  During our conversation this morning, the college counselor shared something that is important to keep in mind.

Teenagers and parents must make choices based on the best information they have. There is no one perfect school for any child. When you pick a college or university, students and parents shouldn’t second guess themselves. Instead teenagers should dedicate themselves into making their college experience, wherever they end up, the best one possible. I couldn’t agree more.

Merit Scholarships vs. Need-Based Aid

For many families, financial aid offers will play a significant role in selecting a school. Consequently, I wanted to share a question that I got from another mom at my gym that I my college fund jar!suspect a lot of parents are wondering about. Here is the gist of her question:

If my child receives a merit scholarship from a school is that dollar amount subtracted from our Expected Family Contribution?

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, an Expected Family Contribution is the amount of money, at a minimum, that a family will be required to pay for one year of school.

If you are poor, your EFC should be $0. You can’t afford to pay anything for college, but that almost never means that the child will attend school for free.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is no ceiling on a family’s EFC. A corporate executive at a Fortune 1000 company  once told me that by using the College Board’s EFC calculator he determined that his EFC was $108,000 a year. Of course no college costs $108,000 a year (yet) and in his case he was interested in his child finding schools that offer merit scholarships to rich students. Nearly all institutions do.

A Sample EFC

To give you a ballpark example of an EFC, I’m sharing one that I use in my workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College. Here are the family’s stats:

  • Total gross income: $150,000
  • Home equity: $100,000
  • College accounts/home equity: $50,000
  • One child heading to college and a sibling in high school

Here is the EFC using the two methodologies:

  • Federal methodology: $31,426
    Institutional methodology: $27,727

What You Do With Your EFC

I don’t know what the mom at the gym’s EFC is, but let’s just assume it’s $31,426 and that the cost of the school is $50,000. I’m also going to assume that the child received a $15,000 a year merit scholarship.

The mom’s question is whether this scholarship is subtracted from her EFC, which would bring her EFC down to $16,426. If her EFC dropped to that level, her child would potentially be in line for a lot of  need-based aid.

In reality, however, merit scholarships do not shrink a family’s EFC. In this case, the EFC will remain $31,426. This is what the family would have to cover. Combining the EFC and the merit scholarship, brings the grand total to $46,426. That’s almost gets you to the  cost of the college.  Once a school adds in a federal Stafford Loan for the child, the teenager’s need would be met.

In cases where the combination of a family’s EFC and merit scholarship doesn’t come close to covering the cost of attendance, a student may receive additional help. Whether the gap is covered by need-based grants versus loans or a combination will often depend upon how much a school desires the applicant.

Learn More at The College Solution:

 What You Need to Know About Borrowing for College

What Is Your Expected Family Contribution?

Answering Your Financial Aid Questions


Let's Connect

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  1. According to my daughter Megan, Scripps IS the perfect college. She is a freshman there, and I am sure would be glad to talk with a prospective student to answer any questions they might have. She takes classes there and at Pomona. She is completely sold on the experience at the 5 Cs, as am I. My advice is go to admitted students’ day at Scripps, if she is not sold after that, maybe Rice is the place. I am sure both schools will meet 100% of EFC.

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment! And thanks for weighing in that Scripps is the perfect college! I will pass along your offer to the mom that I see in the gym. Talking to current students is always an excellent idea.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  2. Lynn, does rental property figure into the equation for EFC? And if it does, what counts–the rental income or the property’s market value?

    Also, does the EFC change every year? After my oldest enters college, I will have 2 in high school right behind him.

  3. Lynn — I think you’re right about this happening to the high-EFC families. Maybe it’s also common for liberal arts colleges. My EFC equals about three-quarters of the cost of the average private school. So far, for every school that my son applied to (all liberal arts colleges), he received merit aid without loans that reduced our out-of-pocket costs to well below what FAFSA said it should be.

  4. My daughter’s top choice at this point is a school that is covering enough to reduce our EFC below what the FAFSA said it should be, without including any loans. I am thinking there probably aren’t a lot of schools that do this. Lynn, what are your thoughts on how common this may be?

    1. Wendy – Congrats on your daughter’s merit award. This doesn’t happen very often. When it does it typically happens to affluent families which have high EFCs.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  5. YES! The perfect school does not exist. And I can say from personal experience, that even if your top choice seemed perfect at the time, but you didn’t get in and had to “settle,” chances are you’ll end up extremely happy at a slightly lesser college, and it will likely also cost less.