There is a lot of confusing language (and plenty of acronyms) when it comes to paying for college and financial aid. You may be surprised to know that “expected family contribution” or “EFC” is not necessarily the amount of money your family will actually end up paying your college. So what exactly is the EFC?
When you complete the FAFSA, you enter general and financial information about your household. From there, the U.S. Department of Education calculates your EFC and provides it to the colleges you select on the FAFSA. According to the Department of Education, your EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college, nor is it the amount of federal student aid you will receive. It is a number used by your school to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive.
So how does it work? Below are the steps in the financial aid process:
- The financial aid office determines your cost of attendance (COA). This includes things such as tuition, room and board, books, and other essential needs.
- Next, your EFC comes into play. The college subtracts your EFC from your cost of attendance to determine the amount of your financial need. This results in any need-based financial aid awards such as grants, work study, and possibly scholarships. (Typically this is where the “free” money for college ends.)
- You will then be eligible for non-need-based aid to help cover gaps left, such as federal student loans. Any remaining balance will need to be covered by your family, and may include seeking out private student loans.
Let’s add some sample numbers to help. If the college estimates your cost of attendance to be $25,000 for one year, and your household’s EFC is $12,000, there will be $13,000 remaining to be paid. If you’re awarded $3,000 in need-based aid, you will be left with $10,000 to be covered by non-need-based aid (that’s where student loans come in).