Estimating College Aid Eligibility Part II

Cost of Attendance:
Cost of attendance is obviously 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 ($16,000), a 4 year public college ($20,000), a 4 year private college ($42,000) or 4 year elite college (the most selective and most expensive colleges nationwide, at $56,000 per year), to get a general idea of your child’s aid eligibility.

Example 1: Your Child Qualifies for Need-Based Financial Aid For example, if your income is $70,000 and you have two dependent children, your EFC based on that income alone is about $7,385 which means that based on this income only estimated EFC (your actual EFC may be higher), your child should qualify for need-based financial aid at all three types of colleges. As a result, your child is eligible to receive need-based grants, scholarships, work study and student loans as part of the child’s financial aid package. Eligibility does not mean certainty however. You will have to wait to see what form of aid the child gets and how much it is worth.

Example 2: Your child doesn’t qualify for need-based financial aid on the other hand, if your income is $250,000 and you have one dependent child, then your EFC is $64,371, which means that your child won’t likely qualify for need-based aid at any of the four types of schools used (Two-year public, four-year public, four-year private and fouryear elite private colleges).  But, that doesn’t mean that you have to pay $64,371 per year because the “sticker prices” are less than that. You will never pay more than the cost of attendance.  Keep in mind too that the costs used to create the table are national average costs for these types of colleges and that the cost of attendance of a specific college will be different than the national average.  The Ivy League colleges and most of the elite private colleges are as much $56,000 annually, but the 2011-2012 national average cost for 4 year private colleges is $42,000.

Merit Aid
Merit aid is another form of student aid that is based on the student’s academic, athletic, music and other merits, not family finances. Therefore, any student can receive merit aid.  The best things about merit aid are 1) merit awards are typically grants, scholarships or tuition discounts that don’t need to be repaid, unlike student loans and 2) students can be awarded merit aid regardless of the family’s overall income or how much the family has saved for college.

Academic merit aid is typically based on the student’s grade point average (GPA) and standardized test scores (SAT and ACT), and occasionally on class rank. It is pretty black and white; if you have the grades – you get the aid.  Student Gets Merit Aid But No Need-Based Aid if your child doesn’t qualify for need based financial aid, but is awarded merit
aid, then your out-of-pocket cost will be the sticker price minus the merit aid award. For example, if the college costs $35,000 per year and your EFC is $40,000 per year, you will be expected to pay the “sticker price” of $35,000 per year minus your child’s $10,000 merit aid award, for an out-of-pocket cost of $25,000 per year.

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Estimating College Aid Eligibility Part 1

The process of applying for need-based financial aid for college begins by students and parents completing one or two financial aid forms, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and/or the CSS Profile. Any college or university that awards federal student aid must require that students complete the FAFSA in order to determine eligibility for federal aid (it works for most state aid too). Most colleges and universities nationwide use the FAFSA as their sole application for need-based financial aid, so students applying for aid at those colleges only need to complete the FAFSA.

However, there are about 300 colleges which require that the CSS Profile also be completed in addition to the FAFSA. Those colleges use the CSS profile to assess the student’s eligibility for the college’s own institutional aid dollars. Typically, “Profile” colleges are very selective private colleges, including the Ivies, but the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are examples of flagship state universities that also require the Profile.

Calculating the Family’s Expected Contribution (EFC)
Regardless of the aid form (s) the student is required to complete and submit as part of the process of applying for financial aid, and after all of the time and information it takes to complete the form (s), it all boils down to three letters, EFC.

You provide your financial information on the aid forms (FAFSA and CSS Profile), submit the forms online to the processing centers for each respective form, and the information from the forms goes into the aid calculations (the Federal Methodology and the Institutional Methodology). The output of those need analysis calculations is the student’s expected family contribution (EFC) toward the cost of college. The student’s EFC is the minimum amount the student is expected to contribute toward the cost of college. Thus, EFC represents a dollar amount. It is the “output” of the aid forms and calculations.

Both of the EFC formulas focus primarily on the assets and income of the parents and student, family size and the number of dependent children enrolled in college in a given year to assess the family’s ability to pay for college using the income and assets that they have. And because the two formulas calculate EFC differently, it’s likely that the student’s EFC under each formula will also be different.

Using a Student’s EFC to Determine the Need for Financial Aid
EFC is used to analyze a students’ need for financial aid using a simple formula that subtracts the student’s expected family contribution (EFC) from a college’s total cost of attendance (Cost of Attendance – EFC = Financial Need). If a student’s EFC is less than a college’s cost of attendance, then the student qualifies for need-based financial aid.

 

Photo courtesy of: http://finaid.uncc.edu

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