EFC is your Expected Family Contribution. In the real world, think of it as your Minimum Family Contribution. There is no requirement that a school meet your need, though some will.

If schools aren’t going to meet your need, why do you need to know your EFC? Beyond knowing the minimum you’ll be expected to pay for your child’s education each year, knowing your EFC will help you with some other big issues:

  • What are the right schools to apply to, based on affordability for your family? If your EFC is low, you need to look for schools that meet most or all of need. If your EFC is high, you should be looking for schools that offer merit aid since you are unlikely to get much, if any, need-based aid.
  • Are there things you can do to reduce your EFC?
  • Are schools meeting your need through gift aid (scholarships and grants) or self-help aid (loans and work-study)? Knowing your EFC before trying out net price calculators will help you to understand this.
  • Should you avoid applying to colleges that require the CSS PROFILE? Or, for that matter, the FAFSA? The institutional methodology for financial aid (based on the CSS PROFILE) treats some assets differently and many families find that it yields a much higher EFC than does the federal methodology (based on the FAFSA).

Both formulas offer calculators to help you estimate your EFC. The FAFSA 4caster is here; the CSS PROFILE calculator is here. In these days of astronomical college prices, it’s crucial that you know in advance what you should expect to pay at different schools. It will save you and your student a lot of heartache in the application process.