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What Will You Pay For Your Child's College Education?

Updated: Jul 12, 2019

If you don’t have your own personal genie, you will want to read this blog!  


The government and colleges expect you to pay for part of your child’s college education.


The amount of money a family is expected to contribute for one year of college is commonly referred to as the Expected Family Contribution or EFC. But this is a misnomer. EFC is actually a number derived from the information a family provides in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. The colleges then take this number and put it into their own calculations to determine how much need-based aid you are eligible for and how much they will offer you. In the vast majority of cases, they will not give you the amount that you are eligible for. It will be something less, and the difference between what you were eligible for and what they gave you is commonly referred to as the "gapped" amount. Therefore, you will be responsible for not only the "EFC" amount but also the "gapped" amount. If you choose not to accept any part of the financial aid packaged offered (e.g, work-study or a loan), you are responsible for those amounts as well.


The EFC is calculated based on a specific formula, which considers taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits, as well as the size of your family and the number of family members attending college during the year.  The FAFSA alone is used by the majority of colleges.


I recommend that everyone fills out the FAFSA even if you don’t think your child will be eligible for financial aid. It takes about an hour to complete, and you may be surprised with the results. Furthermore, some colleges use this information when awarding merit scholarships, independent of need.

A few hundred colleges will also require you to complete the CSS Profile, which requires more detailed financial information.  The results of these two forms together will determine your EFC for each of these colleges, and it is likely that each college will produce a different EFC.   The Profile form allows them to pick and choose which financial questions that will ask you, and each college views home equity differently.

The FAFSA and CSS Profile forms for the fall quarter/semester of the following year are made available on October 1st of the current year.  The forms will ask for tax information that is 2 years old.  For example, if your teen will be starting college in Fall, 2020 - the required tax information will be from your 2018 tax return. 

If your child is not a senior in high school, and you would like to get an estimate of your EFC, you can do this by using College Board’s EFC Calculator at this link: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-col…/paying-your- share/expected-family-contribution-calculator


Why is knowing your EFC important before applying to college? Because it will help you to determine if your child will be eligible for need-based financial aid. It is very detrimental to the student and the parents when their child applies to a college that may accept them, but won’t provide enough aid to make attending the college a financial reality.

Some schools are very generous with need-based aid.

Some offer excellent merit aid to more affluent families.

Parents need to know what they are likely to receive in assistance from the government/colleges/universities before their child applies.

Calculating your EFC is the first step!


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