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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Financial Aid Question of the Month

Q. For several years, I have been taking care of my brother’s student. I’m not the legal guardian and my brother and his former wife are rarely seen or heard from. How does this affect the FAFSA?

 
A. As long as at least one of the student’s parents is still alive, the student is considered a dependent person and the parent’s information must be reported on the FAFSA even if he has a guardian, legal or not…Unless the school has a documented reason to perform a dependency override which will convert the status to independent. To get a dependency override you will have to contact the financial aid department.

If a student is living with her grandparents or other relatives, the same principle applies. Unless the relatives have adopted the student, their income should not be reported on the FAFSA as parental income. Any cash support from persons other than the student’s parents should be reported as untaxed income. The school may also consider other kinds of support as part of the student’s financial resources and use professional judgment to include the support under the item for student’s untaxed income. Any support the student receives from his or her legal guardians gets reported on one of the FAFSA worksheets, but the student does not list them as parents on the FAFSA.

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