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The EFC stands for expected family contribution, a number that a college financial aid office uses to determine how much aid you’ll receive if you attend that school. In many cases, there is a significant gap between the calculated EFC and what your family can actually contribute to your educational costs.

What is the purpose of the EFC?

Your EFC is not the amount of money your family must pay; it’s just a number used by your school to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive.

How is the EFC calculated?

Information you enter on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is used to calculate your EFC. Your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets and benefits (unemployment, Social Security, etc.) can be considered in the formula, as well as your family size and the number of family members who will attend college in the year the aid applies. 

The EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law. The only way a family would qualify for full financial aid assistance is with an EFC of zero. Certain students are automatically eligible for a zero EFC. The income threshold for the parents of dependent students, or for independent students and their spouses, is $25,000 or less to qualify for a zero EFC.

You can use this EFC Calculator to estimate how much your family will be expected to contribute for the year and gain insight into your financial aid eligibility.

What do schools do with the EFC?

Once your EFC has been calculated, the schools you have applied to take that number and subtract it from your cost of attendance (COA), which includes:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Room and board costs
  • Books and supplies
  • Personal expenses
  • Transportation costs

Some schools may also take the following into consideration for the COA:

  • Cost of a personal computer, software and internet access
  • Dependent care and elder care
  • Loan fees
  • Disability-related costs
  • Costs for approved study-abroad programs
  • Costs for obtaining a professional license or certification

Whatever is left over is considered your “need.” You can’t receive more need-based aid than the amount of your calculated financial need. So, if your COA is $28,000 and your EFC is $16,000, your financial need is $12,000. Therefore, you aren’t eligible for more than $12,000 in need-based aid.

What if you don't receive enough aid?

You will receive need-based aid, if you qualify, in one or more of the following forms:

Your chosen school will also determine how much non-need-based aid you can get by subtracting the total financial aid you received so far – including need-based aid, scholarships, grants, etc. – from your COA. This type of aid is not determined by your EFC.

These are the non-need-based federal student aid programs:

If you feel you haven’t received enough aid, you can try to negotiate your aid package with your chosen college or university or apply for additional grants and scholarships on your own. If needed, you can also explore the option of taking out a private loan, though it’s important to do your research to find the best lender.

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