Last Updated Feb 11, 2011 4:34 PM EST
A mom with triplets emailed me recently expressing her fears about how she and her husband are going to pay for college. Here's her note:
I have triplets in the 10th grade and the reality of college tuition is really starting to hit me. We have saved but not nearly enough to pay for college for 3 kids at once. Do you have any information you can share with me? My husband and I both work and make a modest salary, however, with 3 kids, car insurance, etc. it never seems enough.
Great News for TripletsHere's great news for the mom with triplets: Parents with multiple students in college at the same time often enjoy a substantial price break. The more students in college simultaneously - they don't have to be twins, triplets or Octo Mom's kids - the greater the ultimate price discount.
"If you have three kids in college at one time, you will be better off in terms of the total you will pay for college," says Myra Smith, the executive director of financial aid services at the College Board.
Expected Family ContributionHere's why: parents' Expected Family Contribution will drop with each additional child in college. The EFC is important because it represents what a college will expect a family to pay, at a minimum, for one year of college for one child. So if a family's EFC is $10,000 and the college costs $30,000, the family may qualify for up to $20,000 in financial aid.
An easy way to roughly calculate the EFC for multiple children is to divide your EFC for one child by the number of students that will be in college at the same time. So if your EFC is $10,000 for one child in school, with two it would drop about 50% to $5,000 for each student. With three children in college, you'd divide $10,000 by 3 to get an EFC of $3,300 for each child. The lower a family's EFC, the more likely the household will qualify for financial aid.
Smith warns that using this rule of thumb isn't going to be perfect because of the underlying federal financial aid methodology, but it will get you close to the right answer.
To get a better idea of what your EFC will be, no matter how many children you have, run your own numbers by using the College Board's EFC calculator.
Bottom Line:It can be far better for the family finances if more than one student attends college at the same time.
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.
Triplets image by MiriamBJDolls. CC 2.0.