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    What Does My FAFSA EFC Number Mean?

    By Will Geiger

    Will Geiger is the co-founder of Scholarships360 and has a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. He is a former Senior Assistant Director of Admissions at Kenyon College where he personally reviewed 10,000 admissions applications and essays. Will also managed the Kenyon College merit scholarship program and served on the financial aid appeals committee. He has also worked as an Associate Director of College Counseling at a high school in New Haven, Connecticut. Will earned his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania and received his undergraduate degree in history from Wake Forest University.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: February 29th, 2024
    What Does My FAFSA EFC Number Mean?

    Notice: The 2024/2025 FAFSA permanently eliminated the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC)–the following information applies to the 2023–2024 FAFSA only. The EFC has been replaced by the Student Aid Index (SAI).

    There are lots of numbers to consider when thinking about paying for college. One of the most important numbers is your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC. Understanding your FAFSA EFC number will help you navigate the financial aid process so you can maximize the amount of aid that you will receive.

    Jump ahead to:

    Keep on reading to learn more about what an EFC is, how colleges calculate it, and what this means for you as a student applying for financial aid.

    What is the EFC?

    EFC or Expected Family Contribution is the amount of money that a college estimates that your family can afford. This is calculated as part of your financial aid application process through the FAFSA, CSS Profile, or other financial aid forms.

    Recommended: FAFSA 101 guide for students

    You can think about your EFC as the “baseline” for your financial aid package. On top of what your family is expected to contribute, you may qualify for other types of financial aid through your college, your state government, and the local government. This financial aid can include need-based grants (such as the Pell Grant), student loans, and work study.

    On top of this, you may also qualify for different outside scholarships or college-specific scholarships that can chip away at the costs that your family is responsible for. This is one of the reasons why a full ride scholarship is so valuable for students!

    Starting in the 2024-2025 academic year, the EFC will turn into the Student Aid Index. Learn more about the changes and what this means for students.

    How do colleges calculate your Expected Family Contribution?

    Colleges use the data that you input into the FAFSA and other financial aid applications to calculate your EFC. This means that colleges take a wide variety of factors into account when calculating your specific EFC. But in every case, factors like your family income, size of your household, having other siblings in college, and home equity will be taken into consideration when figuring out your EFC. Every college will be calculating EFC differently; there is not a set formula, so your Expected Family Contribution will vary from college to college.

    In order to estimate your potential financial aid (which would be a good guess at your EFC), you can use the Net Price Calculator. While the Net Price Calculator is not an official financial aid calculator, it will provide a good estimate for your family at any college or university in the United States.

    What does my EFC mean for me as a student?

    As a student, you will want to be aware of each college’s financial aid deadlines and requirements because they vary from college to college.

    When you receive your official financial aid letters after you are accepted, the EFC will provide a valuable datapoint for comparing financial aid letters. With this said, it is also critical that you compare the contents of the financial aid award. Obviously, aid packages that have more need-based grants and merit scholarships are more favorable than financial aid packages that include more student loans.

    Some colleges may also “gap” students. This term refers to when colleges do not completely cover the difference between cost of attendance and Expected Family Contribution. This “gap” will have to be filled by the student in some way (here are some tips if your financial aid is not enough).

    When in doubt, we always recommend that you contact a financial aid officer at your college or university. Financial aid officers are an invaluable resource for asking specific questions about your aid package.

    What is the Student Aid Index?

    In December 2020, Congress passed a new spending bill which included some big changes to the FAFSA and federal financial aid process. One of those changes was turning the Expected Family Contribution into the Student Aid Index.

    This change will be largely semantic–the SAI will serve the same purpose as the EFC. However, the term Student Aid Index helps to reframe conversations about the cost of college to focus on what financial aid a student is eligible for (instead of what their family can pay). 

    There will be, however, one big change that will impact student financial aid: negative SAI. Currently, the Expected Family contribution can be as low as $0 (which means that your family should not be expected to contribute anything financially towards your education). Critics of this system note that it does not allow for more financial support for the neediest students.

    When the SAI is implemented in the 2024-2025 academic year, the lowest number that a student can receive is -$1,500. This allows students to access even more aid above the cost of attendance!

    This is a big deal for students who will now have additional incentives to apply for private scholarships even if they are receiving a financial aid award which covers the full cost of attendance.

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • EFC stands for “Expected Family Contribution”
    • Your EFC is calculated using financial information you submit about yourself and your family
    • Colleges use your EFC to determine how much need-based aid to offer you, and how much your family can contribute
    • Colleges will look at the gap between your EFC and the sticker price, and try to fill that gap with grants, loans, work-study, and other forms of aid

    Frequently asked questions about EFC

    What does it mean if my EFC is 00000?

    If your EFC has a string of “0s” it means that your Expected Family Contribution is $0. This means that the college does not expect your family to contribute any amount of money to your education. However, this does not mean that you will automatically get a full ride. Only colleges that meet 100% of demonstrated financial need will cover your full cost of attendance. Other colleges may only cover a portion of your total costs.

    Why is my EFC so high?

    If your EFC is high, it generally means that your family’s income is high. Parental income is one of the biggest drivers of Expected Family Contribution. This is because the FAFSA takes both parents’ income into account, as well as the student’s income.

    Why is my EFC so high with low income?

    There could be several reasons why your EFC is high with a low income. If your family has a high number of investments or other assets, this could skew your EFC. It is also possible that you made a mistake on the application. We always recommend contacting your college financial aid office to ask questions about your specific family situation.

    If my family's EFC is so high, should I even bother filling out the FAFSA?

    Generally, we recommend that all students fill out the FAFSA–even if their EFC is high. First and foremost, the FAFSA allows you to access federal loans. These types of student loans from the federal government that have more favorable terms and interest rates. The FAFSA is also a requirement for students who hope to qualify for federal work study.

    Additionally, some colleges have a policy that prevents students from applying for financial aid in subsequent years if they did not apply for financial aid as a first-year student. This means that if your family circumstances change–a parent loses a job or another sibling is in college–you will not be able to apply for financial aid.

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