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What is Expected Family Contribution (EFC)? How is it Calculated?

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Finances are at least a consideration for most students in the United States. With the steep cost of college, many families are anxious to know how much they should expect to pay out of pocket. 


While the exact figure differs according to each student’s exact situation and the colleges that they apply to, there is one metric to give you an idea of how much your family may be responsible for paying.


In this post, we’ll break down the Expected Family Contribution, including what it is, how it’s calculated, and how you can use it to help estimate your family’s out of pocket costs. 


What is Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?


Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is an estimate derived from information you provide on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Essentially, it is a measure of your family’s financial strength. The stronger your family’s finances are, the more your family will be expected to contribute towards your college education. 


EFC directly impacts how much your family pays for college, but it is not the actual or exact amount that your family will pay, nor is it a guarantee of financial aid up to a certain amount. Instead, it is a metric used by colleges to determine how much federal aid you are eligible to receive. They use this to factor in institutional aid and make other decisions about your family’s final costs. 


How is Expected Family Contribution Calculated?


Expected Family Contribution weighs your family’s financial strengths against their expenses. Generally, the factors considered include your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and other benefits, like unemployment or disability. Your family size and the number of students attending college from your family are also considered. 


The EFC roughly accounts for the gap between the aid you receive and the total cost of attending that college. So, take the cost of the college, subtract the financial aid offered, and you’ll get your family’s EFC.


The exact formula for calculating EFC is fairly complex, however, and it does vary a bit. Depending on whether you are looking at the federal methodology or the institutional methodology, your final EFC may be slightly different. This is because the federal methodology relies solely on information from your FAFSA while the institutional methodology uses information provided on your College Scholarship Service (CSS) profile


Ultimately, you can get a good idea of what your EFC might be by using the College Board’s free EFC Calculator. While this may not give you the same exact figure that you ultimately receive, it will give you a solid ballpark estimate of what your EFC actually is. Many colleges also have net price calculators that allow you to estimate how much your family can expect to pay at their specific institution.

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What If Your EFC Is Low? What If It’s High?


In general, the lower your family’s EFC is, the more aid you will be eligible to receive. The opposite also holds true as a general rule—the higher your EFC, the less aid your family is likely to receive. 


It’s important to remember, though, that there is no magic number when it comes to EFC. A low EFC might mean lots of aid at an expensive, private school with a high sticker price, and still almost no aid at an in-state public school with a much lower cost of attendance. 


And, EFC is just an estimate. Few families actually end up paying exactly what their EFC number is. This is because different schools may weigh specific factors more heavily when calculating institutional aid. 


Finally, remember that EFC does not take scholarships into account. You may be able to earn merit-based scholarships that impact your family’s EFC. If you win an outside scholarship, you’ll need to report it to your financial aid office, and it will likely impact your financial aid award. Colleges often factor in outside scholarships as income, thereby reducing your financial need. 


This isn’t always bad, though. Oftentimes financial aid packages include some less desirable forms of aid, like work study programs or loans. When you win a scholarship, these usually are the first types of aid that will be eliminated from your final financial aid package. 


How to Find Your Estimated College Costs Based on Family Income


We mentioned earlier that you can use each individual college’s net price calculator to find your estimated cost of attendance. That can get tedious, however, as you’ll need to enter your financial details multiple times.


Luckily, we at CollegeVine have a free platform that can give you an estimated cost of attendance for hundreds of schools across the U.S., based on their specific algorithms. We take the work out of entering your information multiple times, on each school’s individual calculator, by inputting your information just once and running it through our algorithm for the schools you’re interested in.


We also have a free chancing engine that will let you know your chances of acceptance at each school and how to improve your profile, plus other college admissions tools. To get started planning out your college finances and strategy, just sign for your free CollegeVine account today.


Finally, for more about college costs, estimating cost at various colleges, or filling out your financial aid forms, you won’t want to miss these posts:


Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.