The U.S. Department of Education uses the Free Application of Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your EFC, or expected family contribution, toward college expenses. Universities use the EFC number as a measurement to determine your eligibility for financial aid, including federal and state grants, federal work study and federal loans.
The FAFSA form and EFC calculate the amount of financial aid you can receive to alleviate college costs. Two formulas calculate your eligibility for financial aid. The federal government uses the federal methodology, which determines your eligibility for federal and state aid. Your university uses the institutional methodology, which determines eligibility for aid programs offered through the university. Your EFC number affects both forms of financial assistance.
The U.S. Department of Education requires personal financial information to calculating your EFC. Your FAFSA form requests your taxed income and your family's taxed income, untaxed income, assets, benefits and other forms of income outlined on the appropriate federal income tax forms. The FAFSA form requires you to reveal the number of family members in your household and how many of them are entering or attending college.
The EFC is subtracted from the entire cost of attending your college. The resulting amount is a calculation of your need for financial aid and your eligibility for federal, state and college-sponsored financial aid. The EFC is a universal standard whereby colleges can understand your need for financial assistance.
Both the federal government and many universities encourage you to submit a FAFSA immediately after filing your income taxes. The "priority deadline" for filing a FAFSA form is June 1. By completing the process by this date, you increase your chances of receiving the full amount of financial aid for which you are eligible. Completing the FAFSA form automatically generates the EFC.
Your EFC number is not the amount you will pay for college expenses, nor is it the amount of aid you will receive. For example, if your EFC is $0, it does not mean you will be excluded from all costs. If you feel your EFC is too high, it's your responsibility to contact your college and file an appeal. Each college will have a different process for appeals.