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Why don't colleges look at more than income for financial aid?

QUESTION: The state says that my parents make enough money to support my college education, but just because they meet the requirements doesn't mean that we have it made. We struggle from paycheck to paycheck, barely making bill deadlines. How can the people who figure out financial aid really know who needs it badly enough if they only go by your parents' income? Signed, Not by the Numbers

Dear Not by the Numbers: You've struck on a sentiment shared by many families who are struggling to make ends meet when paying for college. The reality is that college is a large expense that affects an entire family.

When colleges and the government determine your financial need, they take into account your parents' income and assets, their age and proximity to retirement and number of dependants. Your income potential and savings are also used in the calculation. They use a standard formula for determining your financial need, which is the difference between your estimated costs and estimated family contribution.

If you think that your family has circumstances that require more assistance, set up an appointment with a financial aid officer at your school. Colleges pay special attention to extenuating circumstances such as changes in your parents' employment, medical expenses and educational expenses.

In addition to need-based financial aid, consider merit-based scholarships. Look for scholarships that fit your background and achievements. Great sources for awards are the Internet, community and school organizations and scholarship directories like "The Ultimate Scholarship Book," which is available at

And remember that part of the formula used to calculate your family's need is based on your employment. Many students work jobs term-time and during the summer to make their way through college.

It is true that paying for college is difficult, but you can take action to help.

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Gen & Kelly Tanabe

Gen and Kelly Tanabe are the founders of SuperCollege and the award-winning authors of 11 books on college admission, financial aid and scholarships. Together they were accepted to all of the Ivy League colleges and won more than $100,000 in merit-based scholarships to graduate from Harvard debt-free.