What is the Expected Family Contribution?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The expected family contribution (EFC) refers to a calculation made after the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or the College Scholarship Service Profile (CCS) is completed. It is an estimate of how much the family (often the parents of a student) is expected to contribute toward a college education in the following year. Those students who are legally not dependent on parents (like married students or people returning to school) still get an EFC in most cases, only the contribution that a student must make toward their education would come directly from that student.

The expected family contribution is taken into account when a student applies for financial aid.
The expected family contribution is taken into account when a student applies for financial aid.

There are many things that go into calculating the expected family contribution. These include the income made by students and by parents. In order for a student to be considered independent, he or she usually must be over the age of 24, be married, be a graduate student, or have lived wholly on his or her own for two years. It is very hard to be considered independent of parents without meeting one of these criteria, even when parents are completely unsupportive of a student’s educational goals, and this is not uncommon.

Some parents refuse to fill out their section of the FAFSA or make it very clear to children that they can expect no support for college. The best advice for those people in this situation is to explain it to a good college financial aid department, though some students do get turned from the college path for several years until they can establish independence. There is no standard remedy for this situation, and since most college students are 18, they can have no expectation of support from parents, though naturally many parents are truly supportive. However, a number of people have criticized the EFC and in larger sense the government financial aid process because it fails to given any form of support to those students who lack parental willingness to support.

In addition to assessing income, the expected family contribution also assesses things like size of family, assets and possibly debt. They still return a number that many families find insupportable and impossible to manage. Expected contribution is usually calculated irrespective to geographic area, which makes a huge difference in how amount made is spent.

The good news is that many students and families may meet their share by taking out loans. Additionally some scholarships do not affect amount of any government aid received, though others do. With a combination of loans and programs like work/study, or by taking a part time job while in college, students may be able to meet expenses of many programs, though they might want to limit college choices to less expensive schools so that loan amounts are not overwhelming when college is complete.

Most students will receive an expected family contribution assessment each year when they process their yearly FAFSA application. Amounts may go up or down depending on the student’s circumstances and the parent’s financial circumstances and connection to the student. If choice is to attend pricier schools, it might be useful to transfer to such a school in junior year, after spending two years at a community college. During that time, establishing independence from parents by living alone and paying for education can help greatly lower the EFC, making students more eligible for grants and loans in the upper grades. Typically parents must not claim students on tax returns for two years in order for students to be considered independent, amount made by students has to be low in order to get a low expected family contribution.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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