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Can a high EFC affect potential merit aid awards?

November 30, 2018

So, you got your FAFSA results back and oh no, a high Expected Family Contribution (EFC) number.

Subtracting your EFC from the university’s cost of attendance results in your official “financial need,” which the financial aid office uses in its calculations. Even if your EFC is lower than the cost of attendance, a relatively small “financial need” number could mean very little or no need-based financial aid.

Of course, you may feel your EFC is too high - and in any case, you are probably looking for ways to reduce your cost of college so that you can graduate with more money in the bank and fewer student loans.

Never fear! There are still other aid options that will help maximize your investment: You might be eligible for merit-based aid provided through your institution. Having a high EFC could affect your merit aid in some cases, but not always.

Merit Aid and Need-Based Aid

The requirements for merit aid are going to vary from college to college. In many cases there is not a clear boundary between need-based and merit-based aid; the same team at a college considers all aspects of an application to provide a financial aid package that they feel is fair and will get you to enroll - whether based on need or merit. To gauge the impact of EFC on merit aid, you should look at how generous a college is with merit aid. If the college has a strategy to attract competitive students with merit scholarships, you’re in luck. Strong students will get money regardless of EFC! Assuming need is not a requirement, a student with a high EFC is just as entitled to a merit-based award as a student with an EFC of $0.

However, colleges that don’t award much merit aid to students will not be a good bet. Those schools are more likely to give awards to students who need the money in order to attend, and your high EFC will mean you’re less likely to receive money.

High EFC and Admission

The (unfair) reality is that a high EFC can only help you in the admissions process. At need-blind schools, your reported financial need, or lack thereof, will not be taken into account during the selection process (though it’s impossible to hide some indications of socioeconomic status, such as where you live and go to high school). Most public colleges and universities are need blind. To find out if the school you’re interested in is need blind, contact that school’s admissions office.

The alternative to need-blind is need-aware. Need-aware schools are assessing your ability to contribute at some point in the selection process. Some schools will give preferential treatment to students who can pay in full, especially if the school is in need of the funds. For example, if two students are on the waiting list who have very similar academic profiles, but one is going to need a lot of aid and the other is not, it’s likely the school could go with the student who can pay in full. To learn more, check out this Forbes article and dig around for other articles that disclose more information about your dream college’s selection process.

Merit Aid and the FAFSA

You might think that filling out the FAFSA is a lost cause because you don’t think you’ll be eligible for aid. But some financial aid programs still require the completion of the FAFSA or CSS profile in order to be considered for institutional aid. For example, they may want to ensure that you’ve maximized your federal aid allotment before using their private funds. Others do it because it demonstrates interest in the school if you go through with an extra step in the process.

Go directly to your schools of interest and talk with the financial aid or admissions offices about their merit aid availability and process of consideration.

There are many ways to skin the cat that is financial aid. Don’t let getting a high EFC discourage you.