What Will Happen in Future Years?
What happens from one year to the next with a Swarthmore student’s financial aid award?
This is an important question for prospective and current students to consider, particularly students whose families may experience times of financial uncertainty.
Numerous factors impact our need analysis, the methodology that the College uses to determine the financial need of a student.
Generally, financial need from one year to the next changes as one might expect, inversely (opposite) to a family’s change in financial position. For example, if your family’s overall financial strength increases, your financial need decreases. If your family’s overall financial strength decreases, your financial need increases.
The primary factor of financial strength is measured by your family’s reported and verified income and assets from year to year. A secondary driving factor is the size of the family, the number of children in the family, and the number of children in college*—essentially all the people who must depend upon that income and those assets in order to live.
How does the process work?
From one year to the next, if your family’s size and the number of children in college* stays the same while your income and/or assets decrease, your family’s financial position will have decreased, and your financial need would be expected to increase.
The opposite would be true as well. Should your family’s size and the number of children in college* stay the same while your income and/or assets increase, your family’s financial position will have increased, and your financial need and financial aid would be expected to decrease. While there are other factors that could change this expected outcome, this is generally the case.
If your income and assets remain relatively unchanged from year to year, but your family’s size and/or the number of children in college changes, your family’s financial need would change as well. In cases where an additional child (a sibling to a Swarthmore student) enters college*, your family size might remain the same, but your family is now responsible for the additional costs of educating an additional college student. Your financial position is weaker as a result, and your financial need and financial aid would be expected to increase.
Again, the opposite would be true: If your family income and assets remained level from one year to the next while a Swarthmore student’s sibling graduated or left college, your family’s financial position is strengthened, resulting in decreased financial need and a decreased financial aid award.
A few important notes:
- It is uncommon for a family’s income and assets to remain exactly the same from one year to the next.
- It is more common that a family’s size and the number of children in college remain the same from one year to the next.
- It is not uncommon for a family's income and assets to move in opposite directions from one year to the next, meaning that income may increase while assets may decrease, or vice versa.
- The direction and degree of changes from one year to the next depends upon context and innumerable combinations of factors.
For example, a family of four with two parents and two children (one of whom is in college*) and an annual income of $180,000 is expected to be impacted differently by a change of $10,000 in income than a family of one parent with two children, both of whom are in college, and an annual income of $60,000.
What are some reasons why my aid award might change from one year to the next?
If you see significant changes in your financial aid award from one year to the next, in either direction, you are encouraged to consider which of the above discussed factors (and to what degree) may have changed for your family and resulted in those changes.
- Should you feel that no significant changes have occurred from the prior year, you are welcome to contact the student’s assigned financial aid director. The financial aid director will be happy to address your concerns.
- The College’s annual cost of attendance increases each year, albeit by a small percentage. How a student’s financial need may change, resulting in a change to the bottom-line number of the financial aid award, could also factor into the changes in the annual cost of attendance. In these cases, it may be advisable for your family to assess your out-of-pocket expense from one year to the next rather than assessing changes in the absolute value of the financial aid award totals.
- The College assesses a student’s financial need each year regardless of family circumstances. Families whose financial position changes should expect changes in their financial need and financial aid award.
- Students are more likely to receive outside scholarship awards in their first year than they may in subsequent years. All else being equal, this would result in a student receiving a smaller aid award in their upper-class years, despite the fact that this factor is not controlled by the College.
- Students are expected to contribute their fair share of summer earnings each year: $2,000 in their first year and $2,500 in each subsequent year. All else being equal, this increase in student contribution would decrease the student’s aid award from the first year to the second.
- Finally, the College’s Financial Aid Office follows a process for assessing significant changes to a family’s circumstances at any point in the calendar year—changes that can be deemed beyond the control of a family and that affect the family financially and adversely. This includes, but is not limited to, loss of parent employment, loss of parent income, death of a parent, unforeseen catastrophe, etc.
Financial aid offices at small, private colleges such as Swarthmore are able to measure aspects of a family’s financial makeup to a considerable amount of detail. This has the advantage of presenting students with a financial aid award that is tailored to the individual student. Swarthmore’s financial aid awards are designed for affordability amid the driving factors mentioned above as well as the more nuanced factors inherent in the need analysis.
*The College applies credit in the need analysis for siblings of Swarthmore students who are attending full time at four-year, undergraduate institutions.