The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is an application that families or individuals complete to apply for federal grants, loans or work-study funds for college tuition and fees. The application process is free, and it is managed though the U.S. Department of Education.

The U.S. Department of Education provides approximately $150 billion in student assistance each year; however, it is important to understand how your FAFSA eligibility is determined. It is also important to know how to track your status.

Your eligibility will always depend on your current financial status and your current financial needs based on the information you submit during the application process. Applicants may either be eligible for student grants, which do not have to be paid back, or student loans, which do require repayment. Your eligibility is determined by your Expected Family Contribution.

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What Is Your EFC?

In order to be eligible for student aid, you must first determine your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your EFC is an index score and will be used to determine your level of financial need. The EFC will then determine how much financial aid you are eligible for.

The EFC is comprised of you and your family’s taxable income, assets and any other benefits anyone receives. This may include social security or unemployment benefits. It also takes into consideration the cost of attendance, your family’s size and the number of family members that will be attending school.

What Does EFC Mean?

Once calculated, the EFC will essentially mean whether or not you are eligible for federal student aid. Eligible applicants may receive Pell Grants or subsidized student loans, but ineligible applicants may apply for scholarships or non-subsidized loans. If you are eligible, the EFC will determine exactly how much financial aid you can get.

EFC Calculations and Eligibility

The EFC is used to determine your eligibility for federal student aid. There is a specific formula used to determine your eligibility. EFC is calculated by taking the Cost of Attendance (COA) and subtracting the EFC.

COA – EFC = Eligibility Determination

Your EFC score can improve, increasing your eligibility for financial aid. Ways to improve your EFC score include paying off large debts and delaying big ticket purchases, such as buying a car, until after you have completed the FAFSA application process.

Where Can You Find Your EFC?

Once you have completed the FAFSA application process, you will receive a Student Aid Report which will include your EFC. Where is the the EFC on the FAFSA? Your EFC will be displayed in the upper right-hand corner of the Student Aid Report (SAR). If the EFC is not there, it means that your application is not complete.

Check Your Status In Person

Once you have submitted your FAFSA application, it is important to regularly check the status. One way to check the status of your FAFSA application is to visit the financial aid office at your school. Be sure to bring copies of pertinent information including your FAFSA ID. If there are funds that have been disbursed directly to your school, you may check the status of the disbursement directly at your financial aid office.

Check Online

The other option is to check the status of your FAFSA application online. The first step is to log in on the FAFSA homepage. Once you complete the FAFSA login, then locate the “My FAFSA” page and click to access it, however, it may display automatically once you log in.

Check By Phone

Lastly, you may check the status of your FAFSA application and to get your complete SAR, by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center using the toll-free number: (800) 433-3243. To ensure a successful call, be sure to have your full name, date of birth, social security number and your FAFSA ID available. You will not be able to access your account and check your status without this information.

About the Author

Melanie Forstall has a doctorate in education and has worked in the field of education for over 20 years. She has been a teacher, grant writer, program director, and higher education instructor. She is a freelance writer specializing in education, and education related content. She writes for We Are Teachers, School Leaders Now, Classroom, Pocket Sense, local parenting magazines, and other professional academic outlets. Additionally, she has co-authored book chapters specializing in providing services for students with disabilities.