The Methods

Plenty of madness reigns in the methods used to compute your EFC and, ultimately, your need. You can take advantage of this madness to raise your costs, lower your EFC, and increase your aid, but first you need to know how financial aid administrators come up with these numbers.

The Federal Way

The primary method of determining your EFC is the one used by the Department of Education in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known affectionately by millions of students nationwide as the FAFSA. The FAFSA will require you to provide personal information such as family size, marital or dependent status, income, and assets. An organization known as the Federal Processor then calculates your level of eligibility for financial aid. The formula used by the Federal Processor is known as the “federal methodology.” Life would be simple, indeed, if this were the only formula used by colleges to calculate your student financial aid package. Unfortunately, this is often not the case.

The Institutional Way

Many schools require you to submit other applications in addition to the FAFSA. More than 600 schools, for example, use the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE form to determine students’ eligibility for nonfederal financial aid. Plus, colleges usually have their own financial aid forms and make their calculations using the “institutional methodology.” A college’s institutional methodology is often stricter than the federal methodology, taking into account not only your financial assets but also the value of any property you or your family may own, including your home, which the FAFSA does not do.

Remember: Most financial aid forms have their own deadlines. As soon as you’ve decided which colleges you’ll apply to, you should contact the financial aid office at each one to find out which forms they require so you have plenty of time to complete them.

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