Are you left scrambling after filling out the FAFSA to see the number you’re expected to contribute goes way beyond your means? When your expected family contribution (EFC) is too high to be affordable, you have several options. We will address this both for high school Seniors with award letters in hand, and also take a look at what to do with younger students where Net Price Calculators are indicating an expected family contribution amount you know you can’t afford.

Let’s start by discussing when your high school Senior receives financial aid award letters from colleges that have admitted them and the expected family contribution listed is not going to work for your family.

Options When Your EFC is Too High for the Schools Your Student Was Admitted To

  1. Appeal – Don’t be afraid to contact the colleges your student is interested in attending to attempt to appeal the financial aid package. It’s best to let your student do the contacting, but you can coach them for a call or help them craft an email that outlinesthe appeal. There are really two types of negotiation tactics in this instance:
    • More Need-Based Aid – Follow the school’s financial aid appeals process and provide proof of why you can’t afford what the school thinks you can afford. (Colleges usually only take into account “special circumstances” that weren’t reflected in your financial aid filing.)
    • More Merit-Based Aid – It’s easiest to negotiate when you have better offers in hand from other colleges. Have your student talk to the admissions office and offer to send them the award letters from other schools, stressing why this school would still be the top choice with the right scholarship amount.
  2. Choose the Lowest Priced Option – Hopefully your student had an in-state public college or other more affordable school in their mix. It is difficult to turn down admissions offers from more expensive and more prestigious schools, but if it will allow your student to graduate debt-free, it’s worthy of further consideration.
  3. Keep Looking – During Spring of Senior year, you may think it is too late for your student to look at other colleges. This is not the case. There are still many schools accepting applications. Your student may find other schools that are willing to provide more need-based and/or merit-based aid. Check for schools with late or rolling application deadlines. Also, after May 1, National Decision Day, colleges that don’t have all their open spots filled will publish that they are still accepting applications along with whether or not they still have financial aid to award and whether or not they still have on-campus housing available. It’s usually easy to find this listing of colleges online.
  4. Community College – If you are really worried about how you will pay for four years of college, consider saving a ton of money for the first two years of college if your student would start at community college and transfer to a 4-year school for the last two years. Community colleges have rolling admission so it’s never too late to apply. Of course this could mean turning down some great admissions offers, but less financial burden could make it worth doing.
  5. Gap Year – Has your student considered a gap year to allow time to save more money for college and reassess options? Some colleges will allow a student to defer their admissions offer for a year.
  6. PLUS Loan or Private Student Loans – I look at these as a last resort. If you can’t pay the expected family contribution, there are options for taking out loans to cover this amount. This could have difficult long-term consequences for both you and your student when it comes to paying off the accumulation of 4 years of student loans. One of the best guidelines is not to take out a total amount that surpasses the estimated yearly starting salary in your student’s planned profession. Pro tip: Use the MyCAP tool to show you expected salaries for your student’s selected major and compare those to estimated loan payments needed for each school.

Compare Private Student Loans: Loans will vary based on your school

Options for When EFC is Too High and Your Student is Still in the College Search Process

Is your student looking to go to college in the next 2 or 3 years? We ecourage you to start running Net Price Calculators on college websites. These can help you predict what your expected family contribution to be at each school. It’s usually a fairly good estimation.

If you haven’t done that yet, don’t panic! Sign up for MyCAP for free to run an instant net price calculation and find out what your efc will be. Keep in mind that there are actually 3 different types of methodologies used to determine a family’s Expected Contribution. Depending on the college and what methodology they subscribe to will determine what is applicable for your family. This is one of the main reasons why a family’s EFC can be different on a school by school basis. 

Learn more about the 3 different types of EFC methodologies: The 3 Different Types of Expected Family Contribution Explained

In general, you should focus on the following options when your EFC is too high:

  • Colleges that offer the most merit-based aid – MyCAP will quickly identify the schools that will offer your student the most merit-based aid.
  • Colleges with the lowest “sticker” prices – These will mostly be in-state public colleges, but could also include out-of-state public colleges that have reciprocity agreements with your state.
  • Community colleges with guaranteed transfer programs – These will allow you to save a lot of money on the first two years of college and will allow your student to transfer into a four-year program for the last two years.

Additionally, you may be able to lower your family’s expected family contribution through some smart money moves to reduce your adjusted gross income. Consult with a financial adviser to determine if any of these are right for you.

Learn more about Merit Scholarships: Can My Kid Get a Full-Ride Scholarship?

As described above, there are definitely options to lower the total cost of college when your EFC is too high. Your student may have to make some sacrifices as to the type of college they attend, but graduating with little to no debt will make this a worthwhile sacrifice. Use net price calculators to estimate your expected family contribution early in the college search process and focus on the schools with the lowest out-of-pocket estimates.

Our mission at College Aid Pro is to end the student loan crisis. Use MyCAP to easily find the most affordable schools for your student’s qualifications and your family’s financial situation. You can register for free here to start searching!

Learn more about how transparent colleges are at disclosing upfront merit scholarship eligibility: CAP Report Card – Merit Scholarship Transparency Rankings