What is Your Expected Family Contribution?


Do you know what your Expected Family Contribution is?

If you don’t, you should make it a priority to obtain this number.

I’d argue that families need to know what their preliminary EFC is before they begin looking at colleges. Unfortunately, most families don’t have a clue about what their EFC is until their children are seniors in high school and they’ve applied for financial aid.

Parents will receive their EFC figure immediately after completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online, but as far as I’m concerned that’s too late.

What is an Expected Family Contribution?

Your EFC represents what a college will expect you to pay at a minimum for one year of a child’s college.

The EFC, which is expressed as a dollar figure, is calculated based on such factors as family income, taxable investment assets, college savings accounts, number of people in the household, marital status of the parents, number of students in college and, in some cases, home equity.

Poor families can have an EFC as low as $0. An EFC of $0 means that the family has no ability to pay for college. Families with low EFC’s will want to look at schools that give generous need-based financial aid packages.

In contrast, there is no EFC ceiling for wealthy students. The highest EFC that I have seen personally was $108,000 and the father in that household was a corporate executive. Families with high EFCs, who don’t want to pay full price, should look for schools that give merit scholarships to affluent families—and the vast majority of institutions do.

Flawed EFC Methodology

Plenty of families are shocked when they obtain their EFC. Parents with a lot of debt can be particularly upset. The EFC formulas don’t consider household debt, so the EFC can be a fairly harsh assessment of a family’s ability to pay for college.

A lot of experts have rightfully complained that the methodology used to generate EFC figures is flawed. It’s likely that the EFC won’t pinpoint what a family can truly afford for college. And it’s no wonder. Congress, rather than financial aid experts, mandates what’s in the EFC secret sauce.

Why do you need to know what your EFC is? You will get some idea of the costs that your family will face for one year of college and what kind of financial aid you might expect. But that figure alone won’t tell you anything until you look at the price tag of a particular school. Let’s look at an example:

School No. 1: Private College

  • Family EFC: $24,000
  • Cost of attendance: $52,000
  • Potential financial aid award: $28,000

School No. 2: State University

  • Family EFC: $24,000
  • Cost of attendance: $19,000
  • Potential financial aid award: $0

As a practical matter, most schools will not meet 100% of a family’s need. The students who capture the best financial aid packages are typically the ones whom a college or university covets. Teenagers will often get a better deal if they are in the top 25% to 33% of the latest crop of applicants.

To obtain a preliminary EFC, I’d suggest that you use the EFC calculator at the College Board’s website.

Let's Connect

Leave a Reply

  1. Hi Lynn,

    Great article, I am still waiting to receive electronically (via email) the copy of your workbook you promised to give to high school counselors in your last article.



  2. Our daughter attends a school which requires that we file the CSS Profile. Apparently, your EFC is not reduced for multiple children in college if one of those kids is in graduate school. So, I can get “credit” if I am spending $20,000 a year to send my child to private kindergarden but not if I am spending $20,000 on graduate school so that child can actually get a job! Am I missing something here?

    1. Hi Nancy,

      A lot of people complain about the formulas, but I think the PROFILE formula makes more sense than the FAFSA. That’s just my opinion.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      1. I agree that you should know your EFC. But what about CSS Profile schools. How do you determine your EFC when you do not know how they treat equity in your house. I asked one school and the response was: “don’t worry about it we only takes a little”. I have heard some consider the whole amount as an asset, others cap it and yet others ignore it.

        All the schools (including in-state schools) my daughter are looking at are Profile schools. I have no idea what my EFC will be. I know the FAFSA number but in my case that means nothing except for the Pell grant.

  3. Lynn, I thought I had read earlier that my EFC would decrease by 50% once my second child entered college. I would still have the same EFC but it would be divived by the 2 college students, thus lowering my overall expected contribution per student.

    1. Hi Sara,

      Yes, your EFC (based on the FAFSA methodology) will drop roughly 50 percent when you have two children in college. For PROFILE schools, the reduction will be about 30%.

      Good luck.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  4. There’s a great chart here: http://www.stratagee.com/resources/efc_quick_reference/1213_efc_quick_reference.html that shows income and how much of the AIG is expected to be available for college costs. You also have to factor in savings and assets – but this chart helped me finally make sense of what the EFC calculators were telling me.

    Disclaimer: I don’t work for, or have any investment or interest in the company that hosted this information – I just happened to find it useful. It appears to be accurate.

    1. The chart did seem to show an EFC that was close to what I have calculated elsewhere. I was reading the paragraphs of information down below the chart and I’m a little confused. It seemed to imply that if you qualify for both need based aid and merit aid that you would not be able to reduce the cost below what your EFC is. For example, my EFC is around 28,000. My junior daughter wants to apply to private liberal arts colleges where we will qualify for need based aid. However, she also is in the top 25% of the admissions tier as far as her GPA and test scores go and is in a rigorous IB program. Will it be possible to reduce the cost below what our EFC is considering her qualifications?