Overview of financial aid application process

 

It’s no secret that college is extremely expensive, and it can be daunting to think about finding a way to pay for it. Fortunately, financial aid can help make college financially possible for many students. A majority of college students receive some sort of financial aid, through scholarships, need-based awards, grants, and other means.

 

Applying for financial aid is in itself a somewhat complicated process and requires you to fill out several different forms, including the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and, in many cases, institutional forms unique to the schools to which you are applying as well. When you receive your college acceptances, the schools will also let you know the amount of your financial aid award. The awards may vary from school to school and will probably consist of grants, loans, work-study funding, or a combination of these.

 

Need help navigating the financial aid process? 15 College Financial Aid Resources compiles CollegeVine’s guides to the financial aid processes, with individual posts on topics such as the FAFSA and CSS Profile, scholarships, work study, and more. In this post, we’ll discuss the expected family contribution and its importance in the financial aid process.

 

What is the EFC and how is it determined?

 

A major factor in determining your financial aid award is the expected family contribution (EFC). This is the amount the government has determined your family is able to pay towards your tuition every year based on your family’s tax information (income, assets, expenses, etc.). The government uses this information to determine your eligibility for federal aid, and individual schools often calculate an EFC through their own methods as well. These figures (government and individual school) may differ. Schools that award only need-based aid and meet 100% of students’ financial need base their EFC on how much your family can afford to pay as determined by income and assets, while other schools may consider other factors, such as the school’s aid budget limitation, merit, and other qualities.

 

Why might my parents be unable or unwilling to pay my full EFC?

 

If your parents are unable or unwilling to pay your full EFC, it could be due to a number of reasons. Of course everyone’s situation is unique, but one possible explanation could be that their cost of living is higher than the financial aid office estimated; for instance, they might have expenses or debts that your aid application didn’t account for. It is also possible that paying the EFC would require them to sell off assets or use their savings in a way with which they are not comfortable; perhaps they are unwilling or unable to do so.

 

There could also be personal reasons as to why they won’t pay the full EFC. For instance, they may not agree with your college choice, or they may believe paying for college is your responsibility alone. In cases where the parents are not together, there could be disputes as to contributions from each parent. There could be other types of family disputes as well.





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Advice and action steps

 

You know your personal situation better than we do. However, if you are having issues getting your parents to agree to pay the EFC, you need to act fast. Here are a few action steps you can take; use your discretion as to which ones are the best course of action for you.

  • Have a frank discussion with your parents about finances as soon as possible. If the financial burden is too great, see if there is anything you can do to help out the situation,  or if there is anyone else (such as other family members) who might be able to contribute. If the issue is personal, explain how important your education is to you and see if there is any way you can resolve your issues to facilitate paying for college.
  • Call the financial aid office at the college you are planning on attending and ask for an explanation of your EFC. A representative can provide the reasoning behind the calculations, so you might be able to see something you missed.
  • In some cases, you may be able to appeal your financial aid decision. Read Can I Appeal My Financial Award? for advice on how to go about doing so and the circumstances in which it is an acceptable course of action.
  • Explore other options for saving money and reducing costs. These might include securing an after-school or summer job to help you with costs and drawing up a budget. Check out How to Navigate Your Job Search in High School and A Guide to Jobs You Can Work as a High School Student for advice on finding appropriate jobs.
  • Continue looking for outside scholarships, but be aware that some schools with need-based aid limit how much outside aid you can bring in or will reduce your financial aid award if you earn scholarships. Make sure you understand your chosen school’s policy before you apply for other scholarships.
  • Look into parent and student loan options, but be careful and make sure you are being realistic about your ability to repay them. You don’t want to end up in more debt than you can handle after you graduate. Take into account factors like your prospective major and earning potential when making decisions on loans.
  • Wait until you have all the facts you need in order to make an informed decision—and that you have done everything you can do to figure out your financial situation—before coming to a decision on which school you end up attending.
  • Think about taking a gap year—that is, take a year off between finishing high school and starting college, so you can use the extra time to save money, work, or pursue other interests. Check out You Were Accepted to Your Dream College, but Can’t Afford It…Now What? for more on gap years and other tips for finding ways to pay for college.

 

For more information

 

Be sure to take a look at 15 College Financial Aid Resources for guides on a wide range of topics related to financial aid for college. These will help you understand the terminology, provide advice on how to fill out your forms completely and correctly, and offer tips on many other aspects of navigating the financial aid process.

 

Looking for help navigating the road to college? Check out the CollegeVine Mentorship Program. Combining mentorship with engaging content, insider strategies, and personalized analyses, our program provides students with the tools to succeed. As students learn from successful older peers, they develop confidence, autonomy, and critical thinking skills. The ultimate goal is for college admissions to just be the next step in series of successes driven by the student.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine