April 7, 2010
April is here! Hopefully for you high school seniors and returning college students, you have already filled out your FAFSA. If you’re in the process of choosing a college, this also means that you’ll be seeing financial aid award letters from schools pretty soon. There’s a pretty good chance that you’ll experience some sticker shock from what those letters contain, particularly in the area of the “EFC,” or Expected Family Contribution.
In order to understand the EFC, you need to first understand “COA,” or Cost of Attendance. Every college has a cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, room and board, books, transportation, and many other miscellaneous things such as a computer and childcare for dependents. To give an example, the University of Utah’s website lists the main components of COA (for a Utah resident):
- Tuition and Mandatory fees: $4,864
- Books and Supplies: $1,080
- Room and Board for students living at home or with relatives: $3,420
- Room and Board for students living off campus: $9,360
- Room and Board for students living on campus: varies depending on accomodations
- Total for a student living off-campus: $15,304
So basically, the COA encompasses a reasonable living cost for a year (or 9 months, depending on the school) while a student is in school.
Moving on to the EFC…this includes a total of monetary or other forms of support equivalent to the dollar amount listed. So for a student with a COA of $15,304, if a family is required to contribute between 22 and 47 cents on the dollar (a typical range depending on family income and size), that would make the EFC $3,367 to $7,192, respectively. See what I mean about sticker shock?
But don’t panic! The EFC isn’t necessarily the amount of cash that families are required to shell out at the beginning of the year to pay tuition, it’s the amount of support expected throughout the year. So, if parents buy a student’s groceries, that counts as part of the EFC. If the family helps the student cover moving expenses or rent, or loan the student a car, or buy the student a laptop for homework, those all are considered part of the EFC.
The reason it’s important to know all of this is that when you’re making decisions about where to attend school, you need to find the best fit for you, and the best value for your family. This includes being able to compare financial aid award letters, and to really know what you’re looking at! For more resources on demystifying award letters, check out Finaid.org’s helpful article.Posted by: Sumiko