Benjamin Franklin lived a long time ago. Had he lived in the early 21st century, his quote might have been, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes and acronyms.” If you’re beginning to look at college costs, you may be overwhelmed by acronyms and jargon. Here are some common ones:

FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the primary college financial aid application. All aid programs administered by Federal Student Aid (FSA) require the FAFSA. This includes not only Pell Grants, Stafford and PLUS loans but also campus-based programs including Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Federal Work-study programs, Perkins loans, and aid for military families. State agencies that provide financial aid generally also use the FAFSA, as do many schools and other organizations in determining eligibility for their own funds. Most families of college students will complete the FAFSA every year. The FAFSA’s aid formula is based primarily (in descending order) on income, number of dependents, family members attending college, and non-retirement assets. The FAFSA is available beginning January 1; different states and schools have different deadlines for its submission.

EFC: Your Expected Family Contribution is what the FAFSA or CSS PROFILE methodology indicates that your family should be able to pay each year towards college. Note that EFC is per family, not per student. So if your EFC is $20,000 and you have two college students, your per-student contribution is $10,000.

COA: The Cost of Attendance at a college. An important formula to remember: COA – EFC = Need. Need can be met in various ways; see FAFSA above for the different forms of aid available from Federal Student Aid.

SAR: After submitting the FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report which gives you some basic information about your eligibility for various types of federal student aid, including your EFC. (If your FAFSA was incomplete, the SAR will not display an EFC.) The SAR is an opportunity for you to review your FAFSA information and make any corrections. Depending on how you submitted your FAFSA, it can take from 3 days to 3 weeks to receive your SAR.

CSS PROFILE The PROFILE form is an aid form administered by the College Scholarship Service, the financial aid arm of the College Board. Many private schools use it to determine eligibility for their own grants, loans and scholarships and other non-government aid. The CSS PROFILE uses a different methodology to calculate EFC and counts several types of assets that aren’t considered in the FAFSA. Generally the CSS PROFILE is submitted in the fall; like the FAFSA, it is re-submitted every year. And unlike the FAFSA, which is free, the CSS PROFILE charges a fee for each school or agency to which it’s sent.