A series about federal student aid for parents of high school students.

I am in college and my son will also be starting college soon. When completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), how many people in the family do we report as being in college?

While it is true that having more people in a household in college at the same time can increase federal student aid eligibility, this generally applies more to siblings than to parents. There are some exceptions, though, so it is best to discuss your particular situation with the school’s financial aid office.

Who should I include when asked about the number of students in college?

If you are filling out the FAFSA for your own student aid, you report yourself and the applicable children as students. If you are completing the FAFSA for your student, you report only the number of your dependent children who are attending college. The application will list specific dates and ask you to provide the number of people who will be attending college during that timeframe. Include the dependent student listed on the FAFSA, even if they will attend college less than half-time in a program leads to a certificate or degree. Add other dependent students only if they will attend college at least half-time in a program that leads to a certificate or degree.

Who is not included in the number of students?

In general, parents are not included in the student’s FAFSA, even if they are enrolled at least half-time. Also, students who are attending a US service academy, such as West Point, are not included in this number.

Why is the number of students important?

The number of students in college impacts the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is used in the federal student aid calculation. With multiple dependent students, the EFC is divided by how many students in your household are in college. View the EFC Formula here:  https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/resources#efc.

Am I still eligible for my own financial aid?

You will complete a FAFSA regarding your personal financial situation. Income that your child receives is not included when calculating the EFC for your student aid. Your college will make a determination based on its cost of attendance (COA) and the EFC. The amount of student aid you receive may be higher or lower than your student’s since it’s based on the COA at the colleges in question.

Does my student aid affect my child’s eligibility?

Your student aid is not considered part of your household income on your student’s FAFSA.

What if we have special circumstances?

After the passage of some amendments to the Higher Education Act in 1992, certain college financial aid administrators do have some discretion when dealing with households that have parents and students in college. You must complete the FAFSA as indicated, and then ask the financial aid office at your child’s college for a professional judgment review. Be prepared to provide supporting documentation for any claims you make. The financial aid administrator may adjust the number of students in college or your EFC based on the supporting information you provide.


About the Author

Jodi Okun is founder and president of College Financial Aid Advisors and a Discover Student Loans brand ambassador. Visit her website at collegefinancialaidadvisors.com. She is also the About.com Money Expert on “Paying for College,” and was recently acknowledged as one of the “Top 30 Social Influencers in Personal Finance & Wealth.” She has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Mashable, US News & Education and The Huffington Post. The opinions expressed in this article are Jodi’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Discover Student Loans.

FAFSA is a registered service mark of the U.S. Department of Education.