Rarely are two financial aid packages alike. College and universities require that students complete an application for financial aid detailing their financial circumstances and the type of aid desired. If you receive an aid letter describing a financial aid package that does not meet your expectations or needs, you can either decline the aid and supplement your education costs in other ways or contact the Financial Aid department of your preferred school to see if they can address your needs.
The amount your family can contribute to the cost of your education is called your Estimated Family Contribution, or EFC. The EFC is calculated based on a student’s income and assets. The amounts vary according to whether a student is categorized as a dependent student, independent student or independent student with dependents. Your college uses your EFC as a guide in creating your financial aid package.
Assets and Income
If your adjusted gross income is below $50,000 per year, your financial assets are usually not included in your EFC calculation. “Dependent students and independent students with no dependents are expected to contribute 20 percent of their total assets, since it is assumed that these students have saved their money for the purpose of paying for their education,” explains Getting Ready for College. Taxed and non-taxed income is used to calculate an EFC. For example, money received from an investment portfolio and child support.
FAFSA and PROFILE
For federal and school-specific need based financial aid, you must compete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The PROFILE is an application for aid often used by private institutions to determine your level of financial need. Submitting both applications on time is the best way to ensure you receive the maximum amount of financial aid. After the deadline of either application, students are able to receive only aid leftover after all other students receive their aid packages.
Sometimes EFC calculations do not accurately reflect your financial circumstances. For example, your parents may earn a high income but not agree to cover the full cost of your education. In this case, your aid package may be limited to parental education loans or you may contact your Financial Aid office to discuss the details more clearly to see what other options the school may offer. You can also decline financial aid packages that do not benefit you and apply for alternative sources of aid. Private foundations often offer scholarships based on scholastic performance, community service and career interest. These scholarships come in all denominations offering you the opportunity to create your own source of financial aid.