How to Calculate Financial Aid

One of the most important decisions when picking a college is whether or not you can afford it. StudentAdvisor is here to help you calculate your financial aid need.

The estimate of a family’s ability to contribute to their child’s college expenses is called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The lower the EFC means the less money a family has to contribute to their child’s education.

The EFC is the federal government’s formula that calculates what you and/or your family can contribute to paying for a year in school. The amount of federal financial aid you can get is based on a pre-set federal formula that factors in your income, employment benefits, assets, household size, number of dependent children, and number of family members in college, and is based on information the student provides on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

A school’s Cost of Attendance (COA) is an approximate amount of money that your school estimates it will cost you to attend for one year. The COA usually includes tuition, fees, books and supplies, room and board if you’re going to live on campus, transportation if you’re not, and other personal or living expenses while in school.

A student’s financial aid is usually determined by subtracting the Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) from the Cost of Attendance (COA). The difference between the EFC and the COA is called “Unmet Need.”

For example:

$30,000         COA (School’s Cost of Attendance) 

– $10,000         EFC (Expected Family Contribution) 


= $20,000        Unmet Need 


If your Unmet Need is more than 0, then you have financial need. The smaller the difference between your EFC and your COA, the less you will have to rely on financial aid. Your EFC is reported in your Student Aid Report (SAR).

How Your Financial Aid is Determined

The amount of financial aid you qualify for is based on your Unmet Need. However, the amount of financial aid you actually will receive depends on the amount of need-based financial aid that is available to you and your school – beginning with federal financial aid.

The final amount of financial aid can vary from school to school, since each school will have a different Cost of Attendance, as well as different policies for accessing and awarding financial aid. Some schools may fully cover the Unmet Need of students, other schools may offer federal financial aid but will not offer school grants, and other schools may not meet the Unmet Need of any students.

Were you able to get all the money you needed? Comment & share your financial aid experiences below!