What is the EFC?

College planning is fraught with little-understood concepts that parents and students need to understand in order to choose the best school for their family situation. One of the most important and least understood aspects of college planning is the Expected Family Contribution or EFC. The EFC is an index number of a family’s ability to pay for one year of college, in other words it’s what the government decides your family can afford. The EFC is affected by the amount of money a family has, how big the family is, and how many family members are in college. Colleges and the federal government use the EFC to determine how much financial aid a student will likely require for one school year. They do this by subtracting the EFC from a college’s cost of attendance (COA). The difference is the amount of financial aid the family will likely need.

FAFSA and CSS Profile

Two methodologies generate the EFC. The first is the federal methodology which requires students and families to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA requires personal and financial information such as income, assets, and debts. The only way for a student to receive any federal college aid such as Pell grants or Stafford loans is to submit the FAFSA and have a qualifying EFC. The second methodology for generating EFC is through the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS). The CSS Profile is an application very similar to the FAFSA but is administered by the College Board, not the federal Government. The CSS Profile is not needed for all schools, but hundreds of institutions do require it. The CSS dives deeper into the personal finances of the potential student and parents than the FAFSA. Schools that use the EFC derived from the CSS Profile tend to be those who have more funding to dole out to meet student need above and beyond federal financial aid. Generally, for both methodologies, a lower EFC means a better aid package. The opposite is true for a high EFC.

The EFC is an essential tool for students and their families. It is the first step in college budgeting because it allows families to see what the government thinks a family can afford, out-of-pocket. That, in turn helps families determine how much financial aid assistance a school will need to provide them in order to realistically be able to pay the tuition bill.

Due to the EFC’s importance, there are crucial points to understand so you can maximize your financial aid awards. First, do not be scared away from a school simply because of the sticker price. The cost of attendance doesn’t necessarily equal the amount you will ultimately pay. One’s EFC can significantly impact the out-of-pocket cost.

Second, parents should be sure to have their child’s bank accounts and other assets labeled correctly. Student savings are weighed more heavily in the EFC calculations than a parent savings. In other words, disclosed student assets increase the EFC at a higher ratio than disclosed parent assets.

Similarly, research the various tax breaks associated with a college education. Sometimes those can make a college education much more affordable.

The EFC is the crucial first step in college planning for families. Although parents can find online resources to calculate their EFC. It is highly recommended that parents reach out to college planning professionals who can expertly guide them through this initial process. The certified college planners at Elite Collegiate Planning are experienced and eager to help families whenever possible with their EFC and college budgeting needs.



Clark, K. (2019, November 20). 10 College Planning Mistakes Made By Parents. Retrieved August 04, 2020, from https://www.thebalance.com/top-college-planning-mistakes-made-by-parents-795260

EFC – Expected Family Contribution for Financial Aid Eligibility. (2020). Retrieved August 04, 2020, from https://www.salliemae.com/college-planning/financial-aid/fafsa/expected-family-contribution/

Fischer, E. (2019, November 06). College Planning Alphabet Soup – FAFSA, CSS, EFC, COA. Retrieved August 04, 2020, from https://www.thecollegefundingcoach.org/college-planning-alphabet-soup-fafsa-css-efc-coa/

Kerins, Joseph. Expected Family Contribution1.mp4. Elite Collegiate Planning, May 21, 2019.

Pay for College: The Expected Family Contribution (EFC): FAQs. (2020). Retrieved August 04, 2020, from https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/paying-your-share/the-expected-family-contribution-efc-faqs


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