The amount of need-based aid is based on a formula: cost of attendance minus what you are expected to pay (as determined by various aid formulas) equals the amount of assistance you may receive (i.e., your “need”). So for some families who are not expected to pay very much, it may not cost any more to go to a school with a higher tuition than one with a lower tuition. Depending on a family’s income and a college’s available funds, the cost paid by a particular family for attending an Ivy League school may be less than attending an in-state public institution.
The key is not to rule out any school as too expensive. The family should understand how much the family is expected to pay under the aid formulas, how much the student has to borrow and what kind of assistance is available. Schools expect their students to monitor their financial aid status on line during the year.
The government takes your information from the FAFSA, plugs it into a formula and comes up with the E.F.C., or estimated family contribution. The E.F.C. is the maximum you pay, not the minimum. Yet the FAFSA doesn’t ask about mortgages, car insurance or credit card debt. In short, the E.F.C. might not be an accurate portrayal of what can be afforded to pay.
Once your child is accepted, talk honestly to the financial aid office. They understand the information you provide on the FAFSA doesn’t show the whole picture. Colleges are allowed to exercise professional judgment in certain circumstances. What if dad or mom was laid off after last year’s income was reported? Or the parents got a divorce, or one parent died? Or if you had medical or dental expenses that exceeded your insurance?
The key is that the circumstances have to be unusual and documented for a college to override the government’s expectation of what you can pay. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get the answer you want, but it’s best to tell your story.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the primary document for establishing eligibility for need-based federal financial aid. It is frequently used for state and institutional scholarships as well. The FAFSA must be submitted each year after January 1st.
The Need Equation
To determine if you have sufficient financial resources to meet college costs, financial data is collected and analyzed according to a standard set of calculations. This need assessment, or need analysis, results in the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC represents the resources, in dollars, that a student and his or her family are expected to contribute toward education expenses for a given year. The equation is Cost of Attendance (COA) – Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Financial Need.
While costs vary from school to school, the EFC usually does not. Generally speaking, financial need increases when the Cost of Attendance (COA) is higher.
Cost of Attendance
Cost of attendance is one of the two variables needed to determine need-based aid eligibility. Cost of attendance is the total cost of enrolling at a college, including tuition, fees, room & board, books, travel and personal expenses. So if you know the cost of a specific college you can subtract your child’s EFC from that cost to determine if your child is eligible for need-based financial aid at that college. If you don’t know the cost of a specific college, you can use the 2011-2012 national average costs for a 2 year public college ($18,000), a 4 year public college ($22,000), a 4 year private college ($44,000) or 4 year elite college (the most selective and most expensive colleges nationwide, at $62,000 per year), to get a general idea of your child’s aid eligibility.
The Student Aid Report
In response to filing the FAFSA, a Student Aid Report (SAR) or a SAR Information Acknowledgement is sent from the Central Processing System (CPS). The SAR summarizes the application data you supplied and provides information about the amount you are expected to pay for your child’s education costs in the upcoming year.
What is used in Need Analysis
The two most influential factors are:
1. Your income
2. You asset equity
1. How many people are in your family
2. The number of siblings attending college
Merit Based Aid
Merit based-aid is awarded based on a student’s grades and test scores. The admissions department will automatically notify a student if they are eligible for a merit award when they submit their application for admission, because these awards are based on the things admissions professionals look at most: grade point average and standardized test scores (ACT and/or SAT).
Need Based Aid
Need-based aid is the kind that a student demonstrates a “need” for based on the family’s financial aid information as submitted to a college’s financial aid office on the two financial aid forms, the FAFSA and CSS Profile.
There are about 300 colleges which require that the CSS Profile also be completed in addition to the FAFSA. Those colleges