College Choices for Teens of Divorce

During my last two college blog posts, I’ve examined a couple of college case studies.

In yesterday’s post, I looked at some possible colleges choices for Lucienne, a brilliant student out here on the West Coast:

College Case Study: Great Colleges for a Smart Girl

In the first post, I introduced John, who aced his SAT test, but only recently became serious about earning equally excellent grades:

2 College Case Studies: Where Should These Teens Go to College?

John earned a 2240 SAT out of 2400, but he’s got a 3.3 GPA through the end of his junior year.

This poses a problem for John because he was focused on some top East Coast schools. Due to his grades, he wouldn’t be able to crack the super elite schools back East. That’s probably pretty obvious to many of my readers.

Financial considerations, however, would be another reason why those elite East Coast schools wouldn’t have been a good fit.

Divorce and Financial Aid

John’s mom remarried a wealthy man, which puts John out of contention for need-based aid. John’s mom’s Expected Family Contribution or EFC is now extremely high. In fact, her EFC is higher than the tuition of any college in America. If John did manage to get into some of these elite schools he wouldn’t have received a price break.

Here’s why I know that:  there are about four dozen colleges and universities in the country that don’t award merit aid (scholarships) to wealthy students. These schools only dispense need-based aid. Consequently, institutions like Georgetown, Penn or Columbia wouldn’t have given John a dime.  His mother and stepfather would have had to pony up more than $200,000 for his four years.

John’s mother is interested in finding schools where John will receive a discount and that shouldn’t be a problem. Many colleges would be happy to award John with merit aid.

Another Alternative

The elite schools that I mentioned above use a financial form called the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE. In a divorce situation, the PROFILE schools routinely ask for financial information for both parents. This obviously hurts John’s chances for need-based aid.

However, most schools in this country only use a financial aid form called the FAFSA. The FAFSA is only interested in the finances of the custodial parent — not the other spouse. In this case, John’s dad is underemployed and only works part-time. If John lived with his dad for the majority of 2010 (at least 6 months and a day),  the dad would be the one filling out the FAFSA. Consequently, it would be the dad’s low income that would be used to determine financial aid.

Ironically, at colleges that only use the FAFSA, John could be in line for lots of need-based financial aid.

Bottom Line:

John should limit his search to colleges that just use the FAFSA and/or PROFILE institutions that give merit scholarships to wealthy students.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and a new eBook, Shrinking the Cost of College. She also blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. I am the non-cutodial parent and I pay child support. Dad is wealthy with a house and investments, but plays poor with everything else. My finances are grossing $17,000 per year with a lot of debt. There was no marriage. What type of schools should we be looking at for junior female with cheerleading and business high school courses in the NY state area?

  2. I have such mixed feelings about this approach. Yes, why shouldn’t rich people get a discount? Maybe because they are rich and financial aid, in any form, is supposed to be for those who need it.
    But it does validate my understanding of how the game is played and how your dream school may not work if they don’t use the profile that is in your favor.