Before heading off to college, many students will begin the big search for financial aid. For most, that will mean filling out the FAFSA.® And that involves calculating the expected family contribution.
Though filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is pretty straightforward, understanding a student’s eligibility and how much financial aid they could receive can be confusing.
Here’s what aspiring college students need to know about EFC and how it affects their potential aid.
Expected Family Contribution as Part of the Picture
The expected family contribution is an estimate of how much money a family can contribute toward a student’s college education.
It’s a vital metric used to determine how much—if any—federal financial aid students will receive to help them pay for college.
Eligibility for federal aid also takes into account a student’s year in school, enrollment status, and the cost of attendance at the school the student will be attending.
How a College Uses the Information
Once the FAFSA® is completed, a college financial aid staff will use all the information to determine the applicant’s financial need.
It’s important to note that the EFC is an estimate of a family’s financial standing, not an exact number. The amount a family ultimately pays for a child’s college education could be significantly below or above the number provided.
Here’s the process:
1. The college financial aid staffers decide your cost of attendance (which includes tuition, fees, room and board, and books) at that school.
2. They then consider your EFC.
3. They subtract your EFC from your cost of attendance to determine how much need-based aid you can get.
Your offer of financial aid may change from year to year.
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How the EFC Is Calculated?
As the Federal Student Aid office notes, the EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law. It takes into account both a family’s taxed and untaxed income, any assets the family has, and any benefits it receives.
The calculation also considers a family’s size and the number of family members who will attend college or career school during the same year.
Students cannot receive more need-based aid from a school than the amount they need. For example, if the cost of attendance is $20,000 and the student’s EFC is $10,000, the student is then only eligible for up to $10,000 in need-based aid.
Need-based aid can be provided through a number of programs, including federal Pell Grants, Direct Subsidized Loans, and work-study programs.
Fill Out the FAFSA® Early?
A student may qualify for a specific amount of need-based aid but may not receive all of it. That’s because the amount a student receives depends on the available funding at their school.
Colleges are not required to meet 100% of a student’s financial need, and some programs like the Pell Grant have limited funds that are divided up among schools each year.
Students may want to consider filling out the FAFSA® as soon as possible to ensure they are first in line to receive available aid.
Other Ways to Meet Financial Need
All hope is not lost if students don’t receive all the financial assistance they need from their school after filling out the FAFSA.® There are other ways to fill the gaps to cover the many expenses of college.
Merit scholarships: Colleges can choose to award merit scholarships. It is a financial award typically given to students based on their achievements in high school.
Merit doesn’t only mean good grades. Merit scholarships can also be awarded to students who show leadership skills, who perform at a high level on standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, or who have a deep well of community involvement.
Merit-based scholarships do not take into account a person’s EFC and are not based on need. Merit scholarships generally do not need to be paid back.
Non-academic scholarships: Students can apply for a number of non-academic scholarships, financial awards given to students for a variety of reasons.
Students may choose to apply for non-academic scholarships through their church, community, or private institutions. Students can also hunt down scholarships they may be eligible for on websites like FastWeb, Scholarships.com, and the CollegeBoard.
There, they can find scholarships under several categories, including scholarships awarded for written essays, as well as those awarded based on heritage or interests. Students can even find a few zany offerings, like the one from Tall Clubs International, which gives scholarships of up to $1,000 a year to young men and women who are above average height.
Like a merit-based scholarship, these scholarships do not need to be paid back and are typically not awarded based on need.
Pell Grant: The Federal Pell Grant is typically awarded to students who display exceptional financial need. The grant is only awarded to undergraduate students.
Pell Grant recipients usually do not need to repay the grant. Exceptions include if a student withdraws early from the program for which the grant was given, if their enrollment status changed from, say, full time to part time, or if the student received outside scholarships that reduced their financial need.
Student loans: Many students will likely consider a loan from the federal government and start that journey with the FAFSA® to see how much they are eligible to receive. However, again, even if a student fills out the form correctly and adds the EFC, that doesn’t mean they will receive enough funds to completely cover their education. If not, there is one more financial option to consider: a private student loan.
Bridging the Financial Gaps
If you’ve exhausted federal student aid options and still need help, you can apply for a private student loan from a private lender alone or with a co-signer.
SoFi private student loans have no fees—no application fees, origination fees, or late fees.
And SoFi private student loans can cover up to 100% of the school-certified cost of attendance, which usually includes tuition, books, supplies, room and board, personal expenses, and transportation.
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SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Lending Corp. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.
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