What is the expected family contribution?

The important number behind your financial aid package.

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Colleges look at what you can afford to pay and how much federal aid you can qualify for when they determine your financial aid package. Your expected family contribution is determined by the financial info you include in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But you can expect colleges to consider other factors as well.

What is expected family contribution?

Your expected family contribution (EFC) is an estimate of your family’s ability to pay for college. It’s based on the information you submit through the FAFSA, including your family’s taxed and untaxed income, financial assets and government benefits. After you complete your FAFSA, you’ll receive your official EFC on your student aid report (SAR).

It’s not the total amount of federal aid you’ll receive or how much your family must pay for your education. Your EFC is simply a number colleges use to determine how much federal aid you qualify for when you attend school.

Why is my EFC so important?

Colleges subtract your EFC from the cost of attendance (COA). The remaining amount is used to determine how much need-based aid you’re eligible for.

Because aid is given on a first-come, first-served basis, the amount you receive depends on the available funding at your school. You won’t necessarily get the full difference between your EFC and COA, which makes it crucial that you submit your FAFSA as soon as possible each academic year.

Because your need-based financial aid can’t exceed your cost of attendance, your EFC is an important number. For example, if your cost of attendance is $30,000 and your expected family contribution is $10,000, you may receive up to $20,000 in financial aid. For private schools, even students from wealthier families may qualify for aid.

However, EFC isn’t the only number you need to worry about. Other factors that influence your need-based aid package include:

  • Cost of attendance
  • Full-time or part-time enrollment status
  • Dependent or independent filing status
  • Year in school

All combined, these determine the maximum amount of need-based aid you get for college. However, because schools aren’t required to meet 100% of your financial need, you or your family may need to pay more than your EFC to attend school.

How is my EFC calculated?

The formula to calculate your EFC changes annually, though it’s typically based on factors such as your family’s owned assets, government benefits and family size. For example, a single child from a wealthy family that owns a home will have a much higher EFC than a child from a family that has multiple school-aged children living in government housing.

When it comes to calculating your exact EFC, you’ll need to put in some work. You can read the EFC formula guide for a full breakdown of how it’s calculated and a worksheet to help estimate your potential EFC. You can also use the College Board EFC calculator to confirm you’ve completed the worksheet correctly.

To complete the worksheet or use the calculator, have your or your parents’ tax, income and asset information available to simplify the process.

Bottom line

Your EFC plays a role in how much need-based aid you receive for college. But you won’t necessarily receive the full difference between your EFC and cost of attendance since funding is usually offered on a first-come, first-served basis. This is why it’s so important to submit your FAFSA as soon as possible when applications open in October.

Didn’t qualify for enough aid? It may be time to compare student loans to help pay for school.

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