EFC and FAFSA Problems: When Your Parents Can’t Help Pay for College

How Student Loan Hero Gets Paid

How Student Loan Hero Gets Paid

Student Loan Hero is compensated by companies on this site and this compensation may impact how and where offers appear on this site (such as the order). Student Loan Hero does not include all lenders, savings products, or loan options available in the marketplace.

Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero is an advertising-supported comparison service. The site features products from our partners as well as institutions which are not advertising partners. While we make an effort to include the best deals available to the general public, we make no warranty that such information represents all available products.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the financial institution.

FAFSA EFC too high
Logo

OUR PROMISE TO YOU: Student Loan Hero is a completely free website 100% focused on helping student loan borrowers get the answers they need. Read more

How do we make money? It’s actually pretty simple. If you choose to check out and become a customer of any of the loan providers featured on our site, we get compensated for sending you their way. This helps pay for our amazing staff of writers (many of which are paying back student loans of their own!).

Bottom line: We’re here for you. So please learn all you can, email us with any questions, and feel free to visit or not visit any of the loan providers on our site. Read less


Private Student Loan rates starting at 1.04%

1.04% to 11.98% 1
VARIABLE APR

Visit Lender

1.13% to 11.23% 2
VARIABLE APR

Visit Lender

3.80% to 9.36% 3
VARIABLE APR

Visit Lender

  • Variable APR

Note that the situation for student loans has changed due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak and relief efforts from the government, student loan lenders and others. Check out our Student Loan Hero Coronavirus Information Center for additional news and details.

*          *          *

EFC and FAFSA might seem confusing, but these simple-enough terms will help you figure out how much need-based financial aid you could receive for college — all you’ll need is some middle school-level math.

Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is pumped out automatically by your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The EFC is an out-of-pocket figure — the amount of a school’s cost of attendance that you’ll have to cover after accounting for federal, state or school-based aid.

Unfortunately, this basic equation becomes more complicated if your family is unable to cover the EFC from your FAFSA. To find a solution, let’s cover the following:

EFC, FAFSA: A refresher course

The EFC assigned to you by the federal government and your potential colleges is based on the family tax return you supply for the 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 that five-figure gap.

The basic math of EFC from your FAFSA:
Cost of attendance – Expected family contribution (EFC) = Financial need

A higher EFC ($12,000, for example) means your parents would be on the hook for a greater portion of your cost of attendance. But if they aren’t able to meet the EFC set by your school, you’ll have to consider other ways to pay for college without parental help.

If you haven’t completed the FAFSA yet, you could calculate your estimated Expected Family Contribution. That’ll prepare you and your family for the reality of paying for college.

If you’re looking for a good EFC calculator, try the College Board’s. Of course, the more inputs an EFC calculator asks for, the more valuable the output will be. Just be wary of unsponsored EFC calculators that ask for unnecessary, private information — it could be a scam.

5 ways to pay for college when the EFC from your FAFSA isn’t affordable

If your parents can’t contribute to the EFC of your FAFSA results, you might resort to a drastic decision. For example, you could build your college list with schools you can commute to, avoiding on-campus room and board. You could also 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 $14,940 in aid during the 2019-2020 school year, according to the College Board. That figure includes the value of grants, scholarships and federal loans. Here are all five of your funding options.

1. Brainstorm with your parents
2. Negotiate with your potential schools
3. Apply for state grants and private scholarships
4. Start a part-time job or side hustle
5. Consider federal and private loans

1. Brainstorm with your parents

The most common way for parents to assist you in paying for college is to open their checkbook. In fact, 44% of college costs are covered by parents’ income and savings, according to private lender Sallie Mae.

Even if family contributions can’t come close to matching your EFC, 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.

Your parents may not be in a position to help at all, but it’s still important to have this 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 FAFSA-inspired 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 your 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.

Still, even without unusual circumstances at play, it couldn’t hurt to ask financial aid representatives if you can amend your FAFSA, or 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.

If you’re considering multiple schools during the admissions process, compare financial aid offers using our free tool:

Compare Your Financial Aid Awards

Compare Your Financial Aid Awards

School 1

Cost of attendance

Expected family contribution

Net cost of attendance

7,000
Gift aid: Money that generally doesn’t need to be repaid

Grants

Scholarships

Other gift aid

Work-study

Total aid

2,500
Student loans: Borrowed money that must be repaid with interest

Direct Subsidized Loan

Direct Unsubsidized Loan

Parent PLUS Loan

Non-federal loans

Total borrowing

3,500

School 2

Cost of attendance

Expected family contribution

Net cost of attendance

0
Gift aid: Money that generally doesn’t need to be repaid

Grants

Scholarships

Other gift aid

Work-study

Total aid

0
Student loans: Borrowed money that must be repaid with interest

Direct Subsidized Loan

Direct Unsubsidized Loan

Parent PLUS Loan

Non-federal loans

Total borrowing

0

School 3

Cost of attendance

Expected family contribution

Net cost of attendance

0
Gift aid: Money that generally doesn’t need to be repaid

Grants

Scholarships

Other gift aid

Work-study

Total aid

0
Student loans: Borrowed money that must be repaid with interest

Direct Subsidized Loan

Direct Unsubsidized Loan

Parent PLUS Loan

Non-federal loans

Total borrowing

0

3. Apply for state grants and private scholarships

The EFC of your FAFSA 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 might also offer scholarships for students who are scraping by.

Fortunately, you can find these sorts of gift aid from other sources too.

Typically, our home state will also review your information to determine your eligibility for grants, and it may even have a supplementary, state-specific version of the FAFSA for you to fill out. With grants and scholarships based on need and merit, it’s also 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 partly or entirely based on merit. 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.

Can’t cover the EFC from your FAFSA? Read up on scholarships for…
High school students
Current college students
First-generation students
Asian students
Black students
Latino and Hispanic students
DACA students
Minority students
Community service
Military service
Professional development
Single parents
Single moms
Student-athletes
Nursing school
Medical school
Photography
Poetry
Art
Music
Communications
Journalism
Criminal justice
Business
Computer science
Studying abroad in Japan
Studying abroad in Canada

4. Start a part-time job or side hustle

If you can’t tap into family savings to afford your estimated EFC, 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 college job during your freshman year, for example, could go a long way. Maybe it helps you save up for smaller everyday college expenses, including food and transportation.

In addition, consider side hustles that leverage your interests. If you’re an art major, for instance, 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 as tabulated by your FAFSA 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 direct loans (in particular, there’s a maximum of $3,500 for subsidized loans).

If a parent 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, and 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.

EFC and FAFSA and troubleshooting: Finding 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 a perfect solution.

Need a student loan?

Check out our top picks below or learn more about other ways to pay for college.
Variable APRDegrees That QualifyMore Info
1.04% – 11.98%1 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit College Ave

1.13% – 11.23%2 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit SallieMae

3.80% – 9.36%3 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit CommonBond

2.20% – 6.17%4 Undergrad & Graduate

Visit EdvestinU

1.05% – 11.44%5 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Earnest

1.82% – 11.32%6 Undergraduate
Graduate

Visit Ascent