Bookmark and Share Scholarships

How to Calculate your College Financial Aid amount?


You have completed your FAFSA form and reviewed your Student Aid Report to ensure all of your pertinent information has been filled out correctly. Now you are curious about how this data is utilized to generate the amount of financial aid that you qualify for. Keep reading below to gain some insight into the entire process.

Who Determines the Amount Of Federal Financial Aid I’m Eligible For If I Meet the Criteria?

Basically, it boils down to the following:

The factors that go into your eligibility decision depend on your year in school, the cost of attending the school, your Expected Family Contribution and your enrollment status. Your school’s financial aid office will use this information to determine your financial aid eligibility.

  • The financial aid office begins by deciphering your cost of attendance (COA) at that institution.
  • Next, they take a look at your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
  • Then, they subtract your EFC from your COA to figure out your financial need amount and this determines how much need-based aid you are eligible to receive.
  • To determine the amount of non-need-based aid you may receive, the school considers your COA or cost of attendance and minuses any financial aid you’ve already been given.

What Is the COA or Cost Of Attendance?

The cost of attendance or COA is how much it will cost you to attend school. Many 2-year and 4-year colleges will calculate your COA to showcase your complete school year cost. They will add the fall and spring semesters together to arrive at this amount. Institutions with programs that last for differing timeframes, such as 18-month certificate programs may deliver a COA that ranges for a timeframe longer than one year.

Your COA will be an estimate of the following if you are attending school at a minimum of a half-time basis:

  • Fees and tuition
  • The cost of supplies, books, transportation, miscellaneous expenses such as a personal computer and loan fees
  • Any costs related to a disability
  • Living expenses for off-campus students and room and board for those residing on-campus
  • Childcare allowance or additional dependent care

What Is the EFC or Expected Family Contribution?

Your EFC is calculated from the details you report on your FAFSA form. The financial aid staff at the school uses your EFC as an index number to figure out how much financial aid you would be eligible for if you attend their institution. 

There is a formula established by law that is utilized to calculate the EFC. It considers your family’s assets, untaxed and taxed income and benefits including Social Security to determine the formula. The number of family members who are attending a career school or college and the size of your family is additional considerations.

Note: Your EFC is not the amount of federal student aid you are eligible for AND it is NOT the amount of money your family will be required to pay for college. It is simply an index number used by your institution to calculate how much funds you are eligible for.

Define Need-Based Aid & How My School Determines the Amount I’m Eligible For

There is a basic formula utilized by your career school or college to determine if you have financial need:

Cost of Attendance − Expected Family Contribution= Financial Need

The financial aid that you can qualify for if you meet eligibility criteria and have financial need is called “need-based aid.” You are not able to receive more need-based aid than the total amount of your financial need. If your Cost of Attendance equals $18K and your Expected Family Contribution equals 15K, that means your financial need equals $3K. Therefore, you are not eligible for more than $3K when it comes to your need-based aid amount.

Need-based federal student aid programs are listed below:

  • Direct Subsidized Loan
  • Federal Pell Grant
  • Federal Work-Study
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

Define Non-Need-Based Aid & How My School Determines the Amount

There is another basic formula utilized by your school to determine how much non-need-based aid you may qualify for:

COA or Cost of Attendance − Financial Aid Awarded So Far* = Non-Need-Based Aid Eligibility

The “financial aid awarded so far,” includes financial aid from all sources including private scholarships, the school, etc.

Non-Need-Based-Aid is considered to be financial aid that isn’t based on your Expected Family Contribution. Your COA and the amount of other assistance that you have currently been awarded is the formula. For example, if your Cost of Attendance is $18K and you have been awarded $3K in private and need-based scholarships, you would be eligible for up to $15K in Non-Need-Based Aid.

Non-Need-Based Federal Student Aid Programs include the following:

  • Teacher Education Access for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant
  • Federal PLUS Loan
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loan

Don’t hesitate to speak with your school’s financial aid office your guidance counselor if you require more information on any of the above. It is vital to understand all your financial aid options to determine which ones will best suit your needs. Obtain information on local scholarships and grants as they can drastically reduce your expenses.