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What is a good EFC?

December 17, 2018

The Expected Family Contribution, or FAFSA EFC, is one of the most important indicators of whether you’ll receive financial aid. So when you complete the FAFSA form and learn yours, you’re likely to want to know: what is a good EFC number?

First, let’s review what the EFC is. The federal government calculates your EFC using the data provided on FAFSA (like how many children are in the family, family income, family assets, student assets, etc). The number is meant to represent the amount that the government (and the financial aid office at the college) believes your family can afford to pay for your student’s studies in a given year. For example, an EFC of $10,074 means that your family will be expected to pay at least $10,074 for college annually.

The reality, though, is that most families are expected to pay more than their EFC for college. To understand why, you should understand the concept of “financial need.” For every school you apply to, your EFC is deducted from the school’s cost of attendance. This gap is called your “financial need.” The lower your EFC, the higher your demonstrated need - and the more need-based aid your child will receive from the government and from the college. And most colleges do not fill the entire gap because they don't have the resources to do so.

Assuming a "good EFC" is one which results in more financial aid, there is not one magic threshold to aim for. When it comes to your EFC, what’s good for one family might not be good for another. And what's good at one college may not be good at another college.

For example, a student with an EFC of 14,500 applies to a college which is not generous with financial need-based aid. After aid, the tuition fees and living expenses are still too high for the family to afford.

That same student could apply to a school that meets full financial need and receive all of the need-based financial aid they need to make their college education possible and cover their expenses.

On the other end of the spectrum, another student with an EFC of $49,900 is lucky that his family has set aside money over the years so that he can pay over $50,000 per year for school. He is able to close the remaining gap in cost by working on campus during school.

Overall, there is no such thing as a bad EFC number if you can afford to pay the EFC plus whatever the difference is between financial aid and the cost of attendance. Our advice: check schools' net price calculators to see the impact of your EFC on your price of college. You may be surprised at what some schools can cost even if you think your EFC is high.