How Much Financial Aid Should I Expect?

So you are pondering how much money, if any, your child will receive from the colleges they are applying to, and are coming up empty handed on a response. How much financial aid should you actually expect?  The amount of financial aid will differ depending on the student, the generosity of the college as it relates to the student, how generous they are in general, as well as the family’s financial standing as it relates to the college to which the student is applying. More detailed explanations are outlined below.

How Financial Aid Awards Are Determined

It is important that you understand what your Expected Family Contribution is (soon to be referred to as the Student Aid Index) since this is the critical starting point of how any school calculates the financial aid that is awarded to a student. This amount is what the federal government and/or institution says you can pay for one year of your child’s college education. So, as an example, if your Expected Family Contribution is $30,000 and the cost of attendance for a particular school is $60,000, your calculated Financial Need is $30,000 ($60K – $30K = $30K). Most schools will not cover this gap in totality and the percentage that they do will vary by student and by school. Some may cover 80% of your need, but some may just cover 20% of your need, or none of it. The amount of financial aid you receive will depend on the school as well as where your child falls in their applicant pool. Very few schools cover 100% of a student’s financial need, so don’t expect to receive it.

Carrying this out to a different scenario, if your Expected Family Contribution is $75,000 and a school’s cost of attendance is $65,000, your child won’t get any financial aid awarded since your Expected Family Contribution is higher than the school’s cost of attendance.

How Do You Calculate Your Estimated Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?

I use the Expected Family Contribution calculator on Big Future through the College Board Big Future Expected Family Contribution Calculator. This will calculate your EFC for both the Federal Methodology (through the FAFSA) as well as the Institutional Methodology (through the CSS Profile). The output is only as good as the inputs, so be sure you gather the information you need to enter so the results are as accurate as possible.

When Will I Know How Much Money I Have Been Awarded?

Let me first say that a student won’t know how much money they will be awarded, whether it be merit funding, based on a student’s credentials as it relates to the college, or financial aid, based on a family’s financial standing, until they get accepted to a college. Merit funds typically are included in the acceptance letter that the student receives, although sometimes a college will award this within a few weeks after a student is accepted. It will state something like “John is accepted to our college and has been awarded $10,000 per year for 4 years as long as he maintains a 3.0 GPA.” Clearly the amount and minimum GPA, as well as number of years the merit funds are awarded for, will vary by student and school. The good news is that you can expect to know merit award monies upon acceptance.

When Will I Know How Much Financial Aid I Will Receive?

When it comes to knowing how much funds have been awarded from a financial aid standpoint, don’t expect to learn that at the time of acceptance. The financial aid amount comes later down the line. The student needs to get accepted into the school and then the financial aid office will review the financial aid position of that student’s family. This can come a month or more after a student’s acceptance letter arrives. The way they do this is by reviewing the financial aid forms that were submitted, which can be comprised of the FAFSA form (Free Application for Student Aid) and possibly the CSS Profile (about 400 schools require this form to award institutional aid) as well as a state aid form, if applicable, and any additional financial aid information and/or forms that a school may require. Yes, this can be an exhausting process. What I will say is that completing these forms proactively and accurately is paramount. If you miss a deadline or information that needs to be submitted it could mean the difference between getting awarded financial aid funds or not, so do your homework to understand what each school requires and by what deadline. If you miss a deadline you may get absolutely nothing even if you have financial need.

The Financial Aid Award and Expected Family Contribution Connection

Calculating your Expected Family Contribution at the beginning of your college journey while also understanding what your financial boundaries are, marrying that with how generous a college is, as it relates to your child, is  the puzzle you need to put together early on so you compile a list that not only meets your child socially, academically and emotionally but, very importantly, financially, as well.

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