To figure out how much need-based financial aid you can receive for college, all you need is some middle school-level math.
Simply subtract your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) from the cost of attending each of your prospective schools. What’s left over is the amount that could be covered by federal, state, or school-based aid, such as grants.
Unfortunately, this basic equation becomes a lot more complicated if your family is unable to cover your EFC.
In fact, you’ll have to count up all the ways to pay for college without mom and dad.
A refresher course on Expected Family Contribution
The EFC assigned to you by the federal government and your potential colleges is based on the family tax return you supply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Your school might calculate your EFC differently than the federal government, but its reason for calculating it is the same. Your school is trying to determine how much aid you can receive to cover the cost of tuition, room and board, books, and other academic expenses.
Say your dream school costs $15,000 and your EFC is pegged at $5,000. That means you could receive up to $10,000 in grants, loans, and work-study opportunities to bridge the five-figure gap.
A higher EFC ($12,000, for example) means your family would be on the hook for a greater portion of your cost of attendance. But if your parents aren’t able to meet the EFC set by your school, you’ll have to consider other ways to pay for college.
If you haven’t completed the FAFSA yet, you could calculate your estimated Expected Family Contribution. That’ll prepare your mom and dad for the reality of paying for college.
5 ways to pay for college when you can’t meet your Expected Family Contribution
If your parents can’t contribute to your estimated Expected Family Contribution, you might resort to a drastic decision. You could build your college list with schools you can commute to, for example, avoiding on-campus room and board. Or you could delay your enrollment at a four-year school by spending two years at a cost-effective community college.
You also might consider ways to pay for college that can still send you to your top-choice schools. That’s where financial aid comes into play.
The average full-time undergraduate received $14,400 in aid during the 2016-2017 school year, according to the College Board. That figure includes averages of $8,440 in grants and $4,620 in federal loans. Here are all five of your funding options:
1. Brainstorm with your parents
The most common way for mom and dad to assist you in paying for college is to open their checkbook. In fact, 23 percent of college costs are covered by parents’ income and savings, according to Sallie Mae*†.
But even if your family can’t come close to matching your EFC, you can brainstorm ways your parents can help cover college costs. Perhaps they can set aside a small amount of their paycheck to help you pay for smaller expenses, such as books.
Even if your parents aren’t in a position to help at all, it’s important to have the conversation. You can use it to explain your situation to your prospective schools.
2. Negotiate with your potential schools
In the financial aid award letters you receive from colleges, you’ll see a breakdown of your EFC next to the amount of aid you could claim from the school itself. The aid could take the form of a grant, loan, or work-study opportunity.
Since schools calculate EFC differently than the federal government, you might ask them to clarify their methods. Some schools account for families’ medical expenses, for example, while others might not.
If your family’s finances have changed since finishing the FAFSA, you could negotiate a better financial aid package with an appeal. Via the professional judgment process, your school’s financial aid office could alter your amount of need-based aid because of an unforeseen event, such as a parent’s job loss. Just be prepared to provide documentation.
Even without unusual circumstances at play, it can’t hurt to ask financial aid representatives if there’s any leeway in your award package. The stronger your academic profile, the more leverage you’ll have in these discussions. That’s particularly true if you’ve also been accepted to similar colleges battling for your enrollment.
3. Apply for state grants and private scholarships
The EFC is imperative to the process of paying for college because it determines how much need-based aid you can receive. Need-based aid includes grants that don’t need to be repaid, such as the federal government’s Pell Grant. Your prospective schools also might offer scholarships for students who are scraping by.
Fortunately, you can find these sorts of gift aid from other sources.
Your home state also will typically review your EFC to determine your eligibility for grants. But it’s possible that your local education agency could be more receptive to your unique circumstances. You can find grants in your state by contacting the agency recommended by the Department of Education.
While you’re at it, throw your hat in the ring for scholarships. Unlike grants, scholarships are offered on a merit basis. You might score one for good grades or high test scores, for example. But don’t discount all the other reasons you might win scholarships. Awarding organizations are also likely to consider — at least as a secondary factor — your financial situation.
4. Start a part-time job or side hustle
If you can’t tap into your parents’ savings to afford your estimated Expected Family Contribution, start building your own education fund.
You might shy away from the demands of a part-time job. But any position also could help you build your resume. An internship during your summers in high school or an on-campus job during your freshman year could go a long way. Maybe it helps you save up for smaller everyday college expenses, including food and transportation.
Also consider side hustles that leverage your interests. If you’re a design major, for example, look into freelance graphic design or selling your photography.
5. Consider federal and private loans
Of all the ways to pay for college, student loans should be your last resort. That’s because loans need to be repaid with interest, unlike the money you collect via grants, scholarships, or paychecks.
A low EFC might have qualified you for a federal Direct Subsidized Loan that covers the interest during your enrollment and subsequent grace period. Short of that, you’ll have to rely on Direct Unsubsidized Loans for your freshman year. The federal government limits first-year, dependent undergraduates to $5,500 worth of these loans.
If your mom or dad is willing to take out a loan in their name, a Parent PLUS Loan from the federal government could fill any remaining gap.
Federal loans are generally safer than private loans because they can be easier to repay. The federal government allows you to switch your repayment plan. You also can pause payments using deferment or forbearance under some circumstances.
Although they can be less flexible, private lenders might be able to guarantee you a lower interest rate. To score it, you’ll likely have to apply with a cosigner who has a strong credit history. That’s one more way for a parent to help when they’re not able to cover the EFC.
Find the money you need for college
You don’t need to know algebra to figure out how to pay for college. But if you and your family can’t meet your EFC, you might need to be a little creative to make sense of the math.
No matter where you are in the college process, consider these ways to pay for college. Add them up, and you could have the perfect solution.
*Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
†The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
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|1 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
2 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 2/1/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
3 Important Disclosures for Discover.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2019 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
7 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
8 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|4.23% – 13.23%1||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.20% – 11.44%2||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.84% – 13.49%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.50% – 10.11%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 13.25%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.85% – 6.99%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.95% – 9.81%7||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.45% – 12.42%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|