Suddenly, you get an update to your student’s aid offer from their target school. The amount of need-based aid they offered has gone down – because you have other scholarships.
You’ve just experienced scholarship displacement. Some schools decide that since you have outside scholarships, your need is lower and they won’t award you as much. It almost makes the effort of applying for small awards not worth it!
Is there anything you can do?
Why Schools Displace Financial Aid
No college or university has an unlimited amount of money to give to students. Instead, most try to meet as much need as possible for all students.
If a student has outside money from another source – such as outside scholarships – then they have less need. That institutional money can go to another student.
This generally happens if your student is considered “over-awarded,” that is, if their outside scholarships and other financial aid offered by the school is above the cost of attendance (COA) at the college or university once your EFC is deducted.
“I was told that when we went for the financial aid meeting with the school my daughter now attends. I didn’t understand, for years we were told apply for every scholarship under the sun, make that your student’s full time job, etc. etc. but in reality we would have lost out on money the school was giving us if my daughter had gotten any private scholarships (DD only applied for a few and didn’t get any),” shared Sue from our Paying For College 101 group.
Most families want to put outside scholarships toward their EFC, but that’s not how schools handle it much of the time.
What Aid Can Be Affected By Private Scholarships?
Keep in mind that usually only need-based aid is affected. Merit awards are generally not reduced due to outside scholarships, but it pays to ask the school to make sure.
Several types of need-based aid can be reduced if your student wins outside scholarships. Generally, they are reduced in a specific order. Here’s the order you’ll see reductions:
- Government student loans – Unsubsidized
- Government student loans – Subsidized
- Work-study allotments
In some cases, the financial aid office can reclassify unsubsidized loans to apply to your EFC, which can help your family still have access to that aid.
This is what happened to Jackie’s son, “All of my son’s aid was transferred to unsubsidized federal loans and work study was pulled due to him winning local scholarships. Catch 22!”
If you’re concerned that your student’s aid offer could be affected by outside scholarships, check the school’s website under the financial aid information or contact the financial aid office. They will be able to tell you if displacement occurs and how it works.
How to Prevent Scholarship Displacement
If you’re frustrated with the idea that your child’s aid could be reduced because they won another award, there are a few things you can do.
Displacement may affect which schools your student is interested in attending. After all, it affects affordability in a big way. Not all schools use displacement, and you can find out the policies by contacting the financial aid office. For instance, the University of Pittsburgh has publicly stated that they don’t agree with the practice and don’t use it at their institution.
If it’s a possibility for you, you could focus on public schools in Maryland, where scholarship displacement is banned. You could get involved in the lawmaking process in your own state as well, trying to get a similar ban passed where you live.
You can also encourage your student to focus on scholarships that help avoid displacement, like the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, which allows students to defer their scholarship award money until they graduate. It won’t affect current aid and can be used to help repay student loans in the future.
Finally, you can request a reconsideration of the displacement from the school’s financial aid office. There’s no guarantee it will work, but you can always ask and see if the decision can be changed.
Are Outside Scholarships Worth the Effort?
Because the first thing to be reduced are loans – which your student has to repay – some outside scholarships can be very helpful. Anything that doesn’t add to debt is good!
If you have a significant financial aid gap, though, those federal loans may be an important part of affording school. Realizing that the scholarship will replace the loan instead of reducing your gap can be frustrating.
Another good reason to keep a scholarship is if it’s a four-year scholarship. Because your aid package will change every year depending on taxes, financial changes, and other factors, it may be better to have a guaranteed four-year amount than rely on need-based aid.
On the other hand, if the scholarship is hard to maintain because it requires service hours, a specific GPA, or other qualifications, it might be best to turn it down and retain the need-based aid instead.
How Other Parents Have Handled Displacement
Parent’s in our Facebook Group, Paying for College 101, have frequently run into scholarship displacement.
One parent chose not to focus on scholarships:
“By getting an outside scholarship, you reduce your need. Hence, the award is reduced. That’s why I did not insist on my kids wasting time on applying for scholarships. The colleges they are in, or applying for, are on the very high end. These colleges WILL reduce your award if you get an extra scholarship.”
Another parent shared:
Apply for financial aid first. I would just find out what the policies are around this for your schools so you’re not surprised. Not all of them do this. My kid’s school handles internal and external scholarships differently. Now we know.
Another family pointed out that asking questions is the key to avoiding unpleasant surprises:
The questions to ask each school are whether scholarships will stack, whether outside aid reduces institutional aid, and make them spell it out. Have some hypothetical examples to question them about. Like, “I can get my kid a scholarship through my union. If we do that, and we bring $5,000 to the table, what are you gonna do with his merit scholarship? What are you gonna do with his work-study? With his grant? (Whatever you think you will get.)
Another parent shared that they found different schools had different policies:
“It really depends on the school. Usually how a school handles outside scholarships is found somewhere on their financial aid pages. I use google ‘[college name] outside scholarships’.”
You Can Take Steps to Avoid Displacement
Affording college is a challenge, and scholarship displacement can make it harder. It’s a common practice, but you can choose schools that don’t use it. It’s an extra research step, but it’s worth the time and effort!
Interested in finding schools that offer excellent merit aid to students like yours? We’d love to help. Check out our College Free Money Finder today!
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