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How to Calculate Financial Aid

  • July 29, 2010|
  • Posted in: Financial Aid|

Choosing the right school largely depends on whether or not you can afford it. We thought it would be helpful to go over the process by which financial aid is determined. This will give you some idea of how much aid you can expect to receive from the goverment.

The amount of money that you are expected to contribute to your education is called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).Student Loans

The amount of federal financial aid you can get is based on a pre-set federal formula that factors in your income, assets, employment benefits, household size, number of dependent children, and number of family members in college. The formula is applied to the information you provided in the FAFSA. The resulting number is called the Estimated Family Contribution, or EFC. The EFC is what the federal government’s formula has calculated that you and/or your family can contribute to paying for your year in school.

A school’s Cost of Attendance (COA) is an approximate amount of money that your school estimates it will cost you to attend for one year. The COA usually includes tuition, fees, books and supplies, room and board if you’re going to live on campus, transportation if you’re not, and other personal or living expenses while in school. It may not include all of these items or it may include more than this.

The only pieces of the COA that are paid directly to your school are tuition and fees and on-campus room and board (if applicable) but as you can see, the total COA encompasses more than just school tuition and fees alone.

Your eligibility for financial aid is determined by subtracting your EFC from your school’s COA. The difference between the EFC and the COA is called “Unmet Need.” 

For instance:

$15,000    School’s Cost of Attendance (COA): tuition + fees + expenses

–$5,000    Expected Family Contribution (EFC), from your FAFSA

=$10,000  Unmet Need

If your Unmet Need is more than 0, then you have financial need.

How Your Financial Aid is Determined

The amount of financial aid you qualify for is based on your unmet need. But ultimately, how much financial aid you actually get depends on the amount of need-based financial aid is available to you and your school, beginning with federal financial aid. The final amount of financial aid you get could be different from school to school, depending on each school’s COA and financial aid policies for assessing financial need and awarding financial aid.

Some colleges may fully cover the unmet need of only those students who meet additional criteria, such as academic achievement. Other schools may only be able to offer federal financial aid, but not school grants. Still others may not be able to meet the full unmet need of any students.

Another factor that affects how much federal financial aid you get is funding from outside sources. If your EFC qualifies you for a Pell Grant, but then you win a scholarship covering your entire COA, you’re not going to get the Pell Grant.

The smaller the difference between your EFC and your COA, the less you will have to rely on financial aid.

Have questions? Just ask!


I once was stuck with a high EFC which I did not agree with. When I confronted the FA Department, there was no answer that I was able to understand. They merely showed me what the paper showed, nothing more. I asked for an actual understanding. I wanted them to explain how they determined I had so much EFC, when I had no income. They just could not understand, other than by showing me the paper work (which does not tell how the amount is derived). Another time, I was only offered one half of my loan request. I sought both subsidized and non-subsidized, but received only one. Never got an answer for that, either, other than by showing me that's all I get. Not much of an explanation, either.

  • Posted by: Ray Young|
  • August 03, 2010|
  • 07:23 AM

They really need to change the way things are looked at. Yes single parents have it rough but at the same time so do married couples. There are many married couples who get rob of what the deserve. They can grant large amount of money to single parents and what do they turn around and do with this money.... buy drugs. Yes i know many who do and i know theres more out there. This is federal money everyone should be tested for drugs at any given time to insure the money is going to those who really need it. Not the druggies but the ones who are out there trying to better their life and kids. I just find it that my COA is so low compaired to others but yet make way less then they do. Things really need to be change.

  • Posted by: elizabeth|
  • August 07, 2010|
  • 12:21 AM

Reply to Elizabeth: Where do you get the idea that single parents buy drugs with the money??? Your statement is very judgemental and I do not appreciate it. In fact I am a single mother that works VERY hard! I have several disabilities and still manage to hold a full time job, go to school and care for my children and another that i have recently adopted. Just because someone is single does not mean that they are not responsible.

  • Posted by: BJ|
  • August 09, 2010|
  • 03:56 PM

I am shocked by the suggestion that single parents are prone to drug use. I am an elementary school teacher who is raising two children who both excel in advanced classes, are on high school sports teams, do volunteer work in the community, and are basically wonderful human beings. Are your children so accomplished? I doubt it. In any case, your comments gave me a chuckle.

  • Posted by: barbara |
  • August 17, 2010|
  • 09:48 PM

I'm sure the system does not go with everyone's needs. As we all know life isn't fair, its what you make of it. But to say a single parent, like my mother, would take the money from the child to buy drugs is a pathetic accusation. Its as if your saying that only two people could raise a child. You should realize that there are more single parent children out there every year and those kids could kids could do the same if almost more then others could do.

  • Posted by: Beka|
  • August 21, 2010|
  • 05:17 PM

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