The Expected Family Contribution (EFC): FAQs

Colleges figure out how much financial aid they will offer you, in part, by calculating your expected family contribution (EFC). Your EFC is a measure of your family’s financial strength. It's a number that’s calculated using information you give about your family’s circumstances.


How is the EFC calculated?

Two similar formulas, or methodologies, are used to determine your EFC. The federal government uses a formula called the Federal Methodology. Many colleges use a formula called the Institutional Methodology. Both formulas figure out your EFC by looking at how much money your family has, how big your family is and how many people in your family are in college.

The EFC Calculator can help you estimate what your EFC will be using either methodology.

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How does the Federal Methodology work?

The Federal Methodology relies on the information you provide on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to figure out your EFC. This version of your EFC determines how much financial aid you can get from the U.S. government. Some colleges use the Federal Methodology to award their institutional funds as well.

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How does the Institutional Methodology work?

The Institutional Methodology relies on information you supply in the CSS Profile™ (the financial aid application service of the College Board) to figure out your EFC. This version of your EFC is used by some colleges and scholarship programs to determine how much nonfederal financial aid to give you.

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How do colleges use the EFC?

Colleges subtract your EFC from the total cost of attending their institution for one year. The total cost — which includes tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and transportation costs — minus your EFC is how much financial aid they estimate you’ll need to attend the college.

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Why am I expected to pay different EFC amounts at different colleges?

Financial aid policies vary somewhat from college to college. For example, some colleges may consider family circumstances, such as unusual medical expenses, while others may not.

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Is the EFC the only amount I will need to pay to go to college?

Not necessarily. Colleges might not be able to offer you a financial package that meets your full need. In these cases, your family will need to cover the gap (as well as paying the EFC). Ask about a college’s average percent of need met to estimate how much of your need the college might cover.

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What can I do if my EFC seems higher than it should be?

If you believe that a college has calculated your EFC incorrectly, contact the financial aid office. Financial aid officers can explain how they determined your EFC and discuss your options. Your EFC may be lowered if your family has had a significant change in income or expenses since you applied.

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What should I do if my EFC is high?

If your EFC is high, you should not expect to receive a large need-based financial aid package. Look for colleges that have a strong merit-awards policy or practice need-blind college admission.

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What should I do if my EFC is low?

If your EFC is low, you are more likely to receive a larger need-based financial aid package. Look for colleges that offer significant need-based financial aid packages.

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What should I do if financial aid isn’t enough?

If your financial aid package falls short of what you need, you have options. Consider getting a part-time job, finding ways to reduce college costs or taking out a private loan.

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