The FAFSA Form

The FAFSA form is the grand-daddy of all financial aid forms. FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The name is a little misleading, because it’s used not for only federal student aid, but for state aid as well as institutional aid for many colleges. The form is online and resides at

What’s It’s PURPOSE?

While many families are told to fill out the FAFSA in order to get financial aid, few families ever really understand the purpose of the FAFSA and how the information is actually used. The FAFSA has essentially ONE main purpose… and that is to compute a student’s EFC. This stands for Expected Family Contribution and… like the FAFSA form itself, is highly misunderstood.

So What’s EFC?

Here’s where it gets confusing just by the very name Expected Family Contribution. One might assume that EFC is an indicator of how much a family is expected to contribute to a college… any college… in order for their son or daughter to attend, right? WRONG! In very few cases is this true.

Let’s begin with the extremes. In some cases, even with low to moderate EFC calculations, students receive nothing but loans for their “financial aid award”. In other cases, students’ out-of-pocket expenses ARE limited to their EFC calculation… but this is only for less than 100 of the most highly-selective colleges in America.

Then How Is EFC Used?

A student’s EFC is compared with the COA (Cost-of-Attendance) of the college under consideration. The simple formula is COA – EFC = NEED. So a student’s financial need is a direct function of the EFC calculation. Dollar for dollar, as EFC goes up, NEED goes down… and vice versa.

But herein lies the kicker… VERY few schools offer 100% of a student’s calculated need… in fact, less than 100 offer it as policy. So what about the remaining 2500-ish colleges? Well, most offer a percentage of calculated need, some a high percentage, some a low, and others anywhere and everywhere in between.

Financial Need Does NOT Equal Free Money!

OK… so now you know that few schools offer 100% of a student’s financial need based on the EFC calculation. The next major misconception is that the “financial aid” that is awarded is FREE money. SOME of it is indeed free, and this is called a grant.

But a huge part of “financial aid” is in the form of loans and work-study (which is a job providing about $3000/year on the high end, sometimes as low as $1000.)

Loans Are Financial AID?

Oh my goodness, are they EVER! Some schools… especially public colleges… mainly offer student and parent loans as their financial aid packages, unless the student qualifies for a federal and/or state grant. To read more about just how extensive student loans have become, read our ZERO-Debt College webpage on this site.

EVERYONE Fills Out the FAFSA, Right?

You probably won’t hear ANYone else say this, but NO… not everyone needs to or should fill out the FAFSA form! (Some counselors just fell off their chairs.) Here’s how you can determine if YOU should fill out the FAFSA:

Learn your EFC… NOW, not by shootin’ from the hip when the FAFSA comes out in October of your student’s senior year of high school. So how do you learn your EFC NOW? It’s easy. Click here to read my answer in our FAQ section. You’ll find 2 options for learning this important calculation.

Compare your EFC against the COA (Cost-of-Attendance) of the most expensive college you and your child are considering for his/her attendance. Be sure to include the Direct Costs (Tuition & Fees, Room & Board) and Indirect Costs (Books, Transporation, Living Expenses).

If the COA minus EFC is a positive number, then you should file the FAFSA. (The bigger this positive number, the MORE you need to file the FAFSA!)

If the COA minus EFC is a negative number, then you’re wasting your time in filing the FAFSA… UNLESS you are planning on taking out federal loans (the student Stafford Loan and/or the parent PLUS Loan). The FAFSA must be filed in order to be eligible for either of these. We advise against these loans! If you’d like to learn why, click here to read our position.

WHAT? There’s ANOTHER Form?

Financial Aid Night at your local high school may not have mentioned any forms besides the FAFSA, but in order to qualify for financial aid from many private schools (about 250), there’s an entirely different form you must complete that’s completely unrelated to the FAFSA. Surprised? MANY parents are… especially when they learn too late about this important form.

It’s called the CSS Profile Form and it’s administered by the College Board. Not sure if your student’s colleges of choice require the CSS Profile Form? Click here for an entire list of the colleges that do.

And we have plenty of information on our website to educate you on this additional form. There’s a page under Resources with lots of facts on the CSS Profile form. Click here to view the page and get off to a great start in understanding the form. Additionally, you’ll find an entire section of our FAQ page dedicated to the CSS Profile Form. Click here to go to our FAQ page… then click on the category icon entitled “The CSS Profile Form”.

In Case You’re Overwhelmed…

Many families find themselves overwhelmed with all these new terms: FAFSA, EFC, COA, Need-Based Financial Aid, and the list goes on and on. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, FEAR NOT! GetCollegeFunding is here to rescue you! We offer assistance to families all across America through a wide offering of services. Click here to see.

Some families just want our guidance as they learn how to complete the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile forms. For some families, they want nothing to do with these goofy forms, so they hire us to do everything. And for others who realize that the forms are just a small part of the whole College Planning process, we serve them with entire programs, all the way up to and including Essay and Application “Polishing”.

If we can be of any service to you, we have 3 options for you. You can:

– Call us at 949.485.2639.

– Email us at

– Sign up for a private College Readiness Review for only $297.

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