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Friday, June 29, 2018

Should You Homeschool High School? Part 4: A Look at Financial Aid Basics

By Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS
Founder, Celtic College Consultants
Author, Every Catholic’s Guide to College: The Best US Colleges & Universities for Practicing Catholics, 2018 & 2019, and The Ultimate Guide to Top Quality College Planning, all available through

Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on

Financial Aid, Scholarships
First things first.  Your child WILL be eligible for federal financial aid, even if s/he earns a non-accredited diploma.  S/He’ll need to file the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) each year, just like all other students.

Financial Aid & Scholarships Basics
Financial aid and scholarships MUST be applied for.  There are a number of means to do so: financial aid applications, scholarship applications, etc.  Sometimes the student’s application for admissions is also used to determine his or her eligibility for various scholarship programs the school offers.  Sometimes a separate application, or series of applications and/or interviews will be required.

IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT EACH COLLEGE’S FINANCIAL AID AND SCHOLARSHIP WEBSITE BE CAREFULLY REVIEWED.  The particular opportunities, requirements, and deadlines at that institution will be posted.  Some schools have a central scholarships page, sometimes with their own search function, while others have information scattered around.  Scholarships can be given by the university, the college within the university, and/or the academic and athletic departments.

Need Based Aid – is comprised of tuition reductions, grants, and loans which are qualified for on the basis of “need.”  In common parlance, anyone whose budget comes up short would be thought to be in need.  In the realm of financial aid, there are formuli used to determine need, also known as demonstrated need.  Forms must be completed and submitted by deadlines set by the schools.  For federal student aid, the FAFSA form ( is the form which qualifies all citizens and legal aliens for federal student aid programs ranging from Pell grants to federal student and parent loan programs.  Colleges award need based federal aid before they award any other aid.  There are a couple of colleges in the country who have opted out of the federal student aid programs.  These schools have their own financial aid programs. 

Colleges can also provide need based aid to students.  Many use the FAFSA formula as their guide.  Some colleges and universities also require the CSS PROFILE ( form and/or their own forms.  A few colleges require their own forms.

EFC/Expected Family Contribution – is the official amount of money the FAFSA or PROFILE processor determines, based on their formula, that the student and his or her family can pay for one year of college.  There are five factors that contribute to the EFC:

1.    Parent income (for the calendar year before the year in which the student is applying; for the 2020/2021 school year, 2018 income information will be used.) is based on the Adjusted Gross Income (bottom line on your 1040) of the parents.  In the case of divorce, the parent is the one with whom the student lives more than half of the time or the parent who provides more than half of the financial support. (50.1%)  If the parent is re-married, s/he will report the income of both him/herself and his/her spouse.
2.    Parent assets (current at the time of the form filing) including all portfolio assets with the exception of the family residence, retirement savings, life insurance, and/or annuities.  Businesses are valued at zero if there are fewer than 100 employees.  See PROFILE instructions for their alternate rules.
3.    Student income (for the same calendar year as the parents.  For example, for a student graduating in June 2019, starting college during the 2019/2020 school year (fall – summer), 2017 income information will be used.
4.    Student assets, current at the time of the initial FAFSA filing.  The same assets are reported for the student as were for the parents.
5.    Resources include all outside resources, be they money from grandparents or private scholarships. 

Grants – are monies given to students based on need.  They can be federal money, like Pell or SEOG grants, or they can be money from the state, like the CalGrant program in California, or from the college itself.  Grants do not need to be repaid.  

Scholarships – are monies given to students based on merit of some kind.  There are two main categories of scholarships, from a financial aid eligibility perspective.  Institutional scholarships comprise 93% of all scholarship dollars.  These funds come directly from the colleges themselves.  Private Scholarships are those offered by other organizations like the Knights of Columbus, Nordstrom, etc.  Private scholarships are considered resources by the financial aid formuli.  They reduce a student’s eligibility for need based aid dollar for dollar.
Some scholarships have a need component.  This means that the scholarship awarding agency takes into account both merit qualifications and the student’s financial need. 
Some scholarship money may be taxed.  Money used for purposes other than tuition and fees is considered taxable income to the student.  Check with your tax preparer for particular information for your situation.

Gap – is the difference between your demonstrated need and the amount of financial aid offered.  Most schools “gap” students; they do not meet the full demonstrated need.

Other Aid – Some schools participate in collectives through which they offer tuition discounts to students who live in certain other states.  The Western Undergraduate Exchange & the Midwest Student Exchange Program are two examples.  These tuition reductions are not need based and are only merited by virtue of the student’s state of residence.  Not every public school in states that participate in an exchange offers the program.  Some limit the program to include or exclude certain majors.  Details are found on each regional exchange’s website.

Net Price Calculator – By federal law, every college and university is required to have a net price calculator on its website.  Sadly, many tuck them away and make them difficult to find.  It is often easier to simply use the school’s search function to find it.  In order to get an accurate estimation, the calculator will need to ask about the student’s GPA and test scores.  The less information requested, the less reliable the estimate will be.  Sadly, they are not required to provide a calculator that gives an accurate estimate of inquiring student’s likely out of pocket costs.

Katherine O’Brien, MA CCPS is a Catholic homeschooling mother of six who has homeschooled since 1998.  She is the founder of Celtic College Consultants and has served college bound teens all across the US since 2004.  Students in her 2015 -2018 classes were offered over $237,000 each, on average, in merit scholarships. In 2017, Katherine compiled and released Every Catholic’s Guide to College: The 315 Best US Colleges & Universities for Practicing Catholics, 2018.  It is available on  Kolbe Academy families are eligible for 10% off of all of her services and $100 off her initial consultation fee.