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College Planning

What's Your Expected Family Contribution?

Heading to College?

It Can Pay to Know Your Expected Family Contribution or EFC

It’s a rewarding site when a young person leaves for college. If your child or grandchild will soon be attending college are you aware of what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) may be?

Your EFC is an index number that college financial aid offices use to calculate how much financial aid your child may receive if she were to attend their school. The information reported on your FAFSA is used to calculate your EFC. FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid ( The EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law. The College Board website ( is a good place to start learning about the EFC where you will also find an EFC Calculator.

For those with a specific college in mind, a more accurate estimate of your real cost can be found by using the net price calculator which is also available on the College Board website. Net price is the full cost of attendance minus the grants and scholarships a student may receive from their desired college.

When it comes to giving aid, not all colleges are equal. There are two basic types of college financial aid – need-based and merit-based. Need-based aid is a reflection of the student’s family economic status. Merit aid is awarded strictly on academic standings. Students can cobble together various forms of aid to meet their collegiate financial obligations including loans, which are considered aid, as well as jobs in the form of work-study plans. While some schools are more generous than others, they often vary when it comes to determining how “attractive” a student may be to a particular school. Frequently if a student’s Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score is above a school’s median acceptance level, that student has a reasonable chance of getting merit aid from it providing most other qualifying conditions are met. The SAT is one of the standardized tests commonly used for college admissions.

It can be advantageous to know one’s EFC before beginning the college-application process as it is what a school will expect you to pay at a one-year minimum. A higher EFC typically means less financial aid. However, 529 accounts owned by a grandparent, other relative or anyone else besides a dependent student or one of their parents will not affect the student's FAFSA. Most schools set their own rules when distributing need-based scholarships and other awards. Some may adjust aid amounts upon discovering 529 accounts in the family. Also consider that federal financial aid rules are subject to frequent change and that most financial aid comes in the form of loans, not grants or scholarships.

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