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Understanding Family Contributions

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An integral part of the college financial aid process is an expected family contribution, or EFC. This number is the basis for the amount of financial aid made available to a student. The following Q & A addresses many of the common concerns about EFC.

Q: What is an EFC?

A: The expected family contribution, or EFC, is calculated according to a formula set by law. Each college or university a student applies to uses this formula and the information you provide to determine financial aid, including federal, state and institutional grants, scholarships, work-study and loans.

The EFC is not necessarily any of the following:

  • The overall cost of attendance for any specific college.
  • The amount your family will pay to any specific college.
  • The amount your family feels comfortable or is able to contribute to college.
  • The same for multiple institutions.
  • The same as another student's EFC, even if it seems the other student is in a similar financial situation.

Q: How is the EFC determined?

A: The expected family contribution, or EFC, takes into account your family's taxed and untaxed income, assets, benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security benefits), family size and number of students in college at the same time.

Q: When will the EFC be determined?

A: Each year, the U.S. Department of Education opens the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for new and returning students who will attend college the following academic year. After submitting a completed FAFSA and required financial information, families receive a student aid report showing EFC.

Some private colleges require that incoming students complete a separate financial aid process that generates an EFC.

Both of these may be completed as early as the fall before the next academic year and usually are available into the beginning of the applicable school year.

Q: How can I estimate the EFC?

A: Federal Student Aid offers the FAFSA4caster to help families estimate eligibility for federal student aid. Families using the FAFSA4caster use a specific college's official cost of attendance, family information and expected state, institutional and private aid (such as scholarships) to create an EFC. You can compare EFCs for different colleges or with different aid scenarios.

Colleges also provide a net price calculator to help families estimate the amount of aid they might receive. To find a calculator for any specific college, browse the financial aid section of the school website or visit the U.S. Department of Education's net price calculator site.

Q: When should I estimate the EFC?

A: Families may begin estimating EFC as early as the student's middle school years to get an accurate idea of current costs, available aid and expected family contribution. Each college's available funding and costs of attendance may change on a yearly basis, and revisiting EFCs over several years can help families create a more accurate expectation of net cost.

High school juniors and seniors may use the calculators described above to help determine whether they can afford particular colleges before applying.

Q: Where do I find the official EFC for a specific college?

A: Colleges provide a financial aid packet to accepted students in the spring before the beginning of the next school year. The financial aid packet lists the amount the college expects the family to contribute toward the cost of attendance, as well as the financial aid available to the student.

Q: Why is the EFC different than the amount my family can really afford?

A: The tax information supplied on the FAFSA, which is used to calculate EFC, is from the "prior prior" tax year. A student entering college in 2019 would provide the family's 2017 tax information, in addition to other, current financial information. If a family's financial situation has changed significantly since the applicable tax year, the EFC may not reflect that.

In addition, the EFC may consider assets such as family-owned businesses, real estate, investments or retirement funds that the family is not able or unwilling to free up for college expenses.

Q: Can I appeal the EFC?

A: If your family's financial situation has changed since the applicable tax year or since completing the financial aid process, you may wish to contact the financial aid office at any college(s) under consideration to determine next steps.


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