How Colleges Determine How Much Financial Aid You Receive?

In order to receive college financial aid, a student must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application is time-consuming and detailed, but it is the most important form that is used to determine how much a student will pay for college. The FAFSA is available online. It is important that students fill out this form completely and accurately and that they submit it on time, otherwise they will not receive aid. The financial aid office at specific colleges and universities is in charge of determining how much money your financial aid package will include.

Determining Financial Need

To figure out how much money a student really needs, the people in the financial aid office subtract a student's Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from the cost of attending the specific college. It is the combination of the attendance costs and the EFC that determine how much a student and his/her family will pay for school.    

EFC is a detailed calculation that takes into consideration a student's family's assets, income, and size. It also considers the status of a student's parent relationship and the number of family members that are in college. A student's EFC can vary depending on the type of loan that he/she is applying for and also by the college that he/she is applying to. It is important to note that income calculations include the student's income as well as the parent's income. EFC is calculated through information that is provided on the FAFSA. The lower a student's EFC, the larger amount of financial aid a student receives. A student will be informed of his/her actual EFC through a Student Aid Report (SAR), which is a summary of the information presented on the FAFSA.

The cost of attendance includes tution, textbooks, room and board, personal expenses and transportation. Clearly, every school will have a different cost of attendance.      

Once schools process a student's FAFSA information, they send out financial aid award letters. These letter explain, in detail, the breakdown of finances that a student will receive. The money is split into grants, work-study, scholarships, and student loans.  The total amount of money that a student receives will not, and cannot, be greater than his/her financial need.

A Student's Options


Sometimes, colleges do not offer a student the amount of money that he/she really needs to attend a school. In this case, students can search for independent scholarships, look for alternative tuition repayment plans, and look over their applications to make sure that all circumstances were included and considered.     

Need a Student Loan? Click here!