Navigating the financial aid process can be confusing and difficult, especially when trying to calculate your estimated family contribution (EFC) on your FAFSA application. Your EFC is a number that determines your eligibility to receive federal student financial aid. This number is calculated by a formula that is established by federal law, and includes your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (unemployment, Social Security, etc.), family size, and other family members who will attend college. Luckily, you don’t have to do this on your own. The US Department of Education makes a lot of great tools to help you estimate the aid you will receive.
First, if you are a high school junior scoping out colleges to attend after you graduate, you should start in January so that you can find out what the cost of attendance (COA) is for each of your prospective colleges. Depending on how much tuition and room and board is going to be, it will help you decide which colleges are worth spending time on.
So, how do you calculate your EFC? After you’ve filled out your FAFSA, this number will be available to you after the FAFSA has been fully processed. Though you are able to fill out your FAFSA between January 1st and June 30th for the same calendar year, you should file the application as soon as they are available so that you don’t miss out on any aid. You will have to fill out the FAFSA every year you attend college, so it is good to get familiar with the process.
However, if you want to estimate your EFC before filling out your FAFSA, there are many free tools online to help you do that. On the Department of Education website, they have a FAFSA4caster that will give you an estimate of your eligibility for need-based and non-need based aid, including federally subsidized and unsubsidized loans and other grants to help you pay for school.