Whether you’re a high school student or a parent of college students, understanding the expected family contribution (EFC) can help you feel better prepared. Learn how the EFC is calculated, what it means for you, and what you can do to ensure that your college experience is as cost-effective as possible.

What is the EFC?

The main driver of any need-based financial aid is the EFC. Its purpose is to measure the total amount of financial resources available to a student.

For example, students with an EFC of $0 will be eligible for the most need-based aid. Those with an EFC that meets or exceeds the cost of attendance may not receive need-based aid.

EFC Calculation

To obtain an EFC, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Ultimately, this provides the information needed to plug in certain values to the EFC formula such as:

    • Your family’s annual income (taxed and untaxed)
    • Assets like a home, a 529 account, or a trust
    • Benefits like severance pay, unemployment, or Social Security disability or retirement.

This pool of assets will be discounted by factors like family size and the number of family members attending college. Generally, families that will have two or more members in college at the same time will have a lower EFC than families with only one college student.

How Does the EFC Affect Financial Aid?

Each school has a set cost of attendance. This includes tuition and estimates or averages for books, supplies, room and board, and transportation. The school will evaluate a student’s “financial need” by subtracting that student’s EFC from the school’s cost of attendance. As an example, a student with a $25,000 EFC who wishes to attend a school with a $50,000 per year cost of attendance, that student’s financial need would be $25,000 per year.

This doesn’t mean that the student will necessarily be offered $25,000 in need-based aid. Instead, this number provides a way for the school’s financial aid office to prepare a financial aid package tailored to the student.

Also, don’t be alarmed if your EFC comes in at a far higher amount than you feel your family could afford to pay for college. Many families are surprised to see that their EFC totals a third or even half of their net household income. The figure provides a metric for colleges to use to determine which of its students have the greatest financial need.

What Does it Mean to Qualify for Financial Aid?

Financial aid programs offer need-based or merit-based aid. The EFC addresses only the eligibility for need-based assistance. However, the lower a student’s EFC, the more likely he or she is to receive some need-based aid in a financial aid offer.

If a school’s need and merit-based financial aid offer only cover a portion of the total cost, the student and their family can make up this difference through a couple of ways:

How do Schools Use the EFC?

Colleges and universities rely on the EFC to generate financial aid packages for each student. For example, students whose EFC is below a certain threshold ($5,576 in 2019) will be eligible for Pell Grants. Other students may qualify for state-specific grants or scholarships to help cover the cost of attendance.

The financial aid award letter sent to each student will spell out what the cost of attendance is, what the student’s EFC is, what financial aid is available from the school, and how the student can cover any difference between the cost of attendance and the aid package.

When Should Families Start Thinking About the EFC?

Ideally, planning for college should start as early as possible. If a family’s financial situation has changed, Their estimate may no longer be a realistic assessment. For example, if there’s been a job loss or other significant changes in a family’s financial situation. It is possible to appeal a college’s aid award or have the EFC recalculated to reflect current circumstances better.

Additionally, students may also want to consider starting at a community college or local state school, then transferring to another school later in their academic career. Though it’s important to investigate which credits can transfer, this can allow students to receive an education from their school of choice at a mere fraction of the cost of four years of attendance.

What Happens if Your Family Doesn’t Qualify for Need-Based Aid?

If your family’s EFC is high enough, there’s no need to worry. It allows you to focus your college search on schools that offer merit scholarships, work-study programs, and more.

College costs have risen significantly over the past several decades. However, there are still many schools that have maintained relatively low tuition rates. Each college’s website should include a “cost of attendance” calculator. This can help prospective students calculate the cost of attendance and figure out what aid is available.

Please note that the information provided on this website is provided on a general basis and may not apply to your own specific individual needs, goals, financial position, experience, etc. LendKey does not guarantee that the information provided on any third-party website that LendKey offers a hyperlink to is up-to-date and accurate at the time you access it, and LendKey does not guarantee that information provided on such external websites (and this website) is best-suited for your particular circumstances. Therefore, you may want to consult with an expert (financial adviser, school financial aid office, etc.) before making financial decisions that may be discussed on this website.