Your child’s future college expects your money…even if you’re broke

Money HandWhen it comes to paying for college, there seems to be three camps of parents.

On one hand, there are those who plan to pay the entire tuition bill. On the other hand, there are parents who will pay only a portion of their child’s college expenses.

On the third hand, okay, I don’t know anyone with three hands, but stick with me. On the third hand, some parents don’t plan to drop a dime on their child’s college education. That’s fine by me.

You see, it doesn’t really matter which of the three camps you fall into. If your child goes to college, there’s a high probability that the school will hit you up for money. They won’t call the house while you’re having dinner or knock on your door on Saturday morning, but they do expect you to make a contribution to your child’s education.

The Expected Family Contribution is coming for you

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the amount that a college will want from your family before it offers need-based financial aid. If you’re thinking that amount is a big fat zero, think again. The EFC is the minimum amount the government determines you can afford to pay towards college. The calculation is based on your income, certain assets, and your household makeup.

Even if your family is drowning in debt, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have an EFC. The calculation doesn’t consider debt–a factor that is especially disheartening to parents faced with their own student loans.

What is this need-based financial aid you speak of?

The term “need-based” may sound like aid for only low-income, or no-income families, but it’s actually relevant for families at various income levels. A deeper look at how the Expected Family Contribution works may help.

The EFC is not the amount your family must pay for college. No school can raid your bank account, pick your pocket, or pawn your television to cover tuition, or at least they can’t as of the time of this writing. Your child’s school of choice will use the EFC to determine how much need-based financial aid your child qualifies for. To do this, the school will subtract the EFC from the cost of attending their school, more formally known as the Cost of Attendance (COA).

Tuck this simple formula in your head, and never let it go:

Cost Of Attendance – Expected Family Contribution = Financial Need

For example, let’s say your child is chomping at the bits to attend BigBank University at a whopping $40,000 per year. Your Expected Family Contribution is $15,000 per year. That leaves $25,000 in unmet need, more importantly, it’s the amount of need-based financial aid your child may qualify for.

Don’t let the numbers intimidate you

I don’t know about you, but the figures in the above example made my stomach flip. Too many zeros, if you ask me. Don’t be a victim of college savings anxiety, and don’t wait for BigBank University to crunch your numbers. Knowing where you stand, even if it’s scary, gives you more power than blissful ignorance.

If you’ve got a while before your child heads to college, estimate your Expected Family Contribution by visiting BigFuture, Adventures in Education, or another EFC calculator. Once you know the minimum amount of money that colleges expect from your family, you can work towards saving up the dough.

If your child will attend college in less than a year, get the to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), pronto!

Readers: How does the Expected Family Contribution make you feel…on the inside?

If your child started college today, what would they study? (Today, my little worms would probably major in book tossing and bubble blowing.)


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About Nicole Robinson

Nicole Robinson is a Dallas-based freelance writer who specializes in college planning, parenting, women’s lifestyle, education, and self-help. But she's always hungry to munch on new topics. In addition to writing for The BookWormMama blog, Nicole provides content, copywriting and proofreading services for various publications.


Your child’s future college expects your money…even if you’re broke — 11 Comments

    • Thank you for stopping by, Stephanie. You’re right, thinking about the kids heading to college is a little scary, for a whole bunch of reasons. Let’s enjoy them while they’re little, but still keep any eye on the future…they grow up so fast.

  1. Excellent read and GREAT information!!! My husband and I have already decided that we will not be able to afford full college tuition for our daughter. I’m already drowning in student loan debt and will likely still be paying on my loan when Baby Girl graduates high school. We’ve settled on saving money for her to use on buying a home and near campus and renting the rooms out to college friends. Hopefully she’ll be responsible enough to adhere to the plan. There is much room for change, so we’ll see. I’m definitely going to tweet this post. Great, great info. Thanks for sharing. Andrea visiting from SITS.
    Andrea recently posted..About Me: Beyond the BlogMy Profile

  2. Great Article!! Luckily my husband has the GI Bill that we can split between our two children since he didn’t need it, but even then we will probably need to pay for some of their collage.. what’s sad now a days though is that a college degree seems to be looked at as the new high school degree.. Unless you go for your doctorate or masters, it seems just a collage degree these days can’t guarantee a job.
    Rachel Young recently posted..Let your sole sing with the Jabra #SetSoundFree Giveaway!My Profile

  3. Wow, this is the first I’ve heard of this. When I applied for student loans (a decade ago) my parent’s income wasn’t a factor in the application.

    I’m part of the third hand crowd, my kids can pay for their own extended education through student loans.
    Cat Davis recently posted..Blackberry Buckle Dessert RecipeMy Profile

  4. This is a great article. We have one in college (about to be a junior) and five more that need to go. We were in the camp of each has to pay their own way. With two autistic kids it was not going to be an option for us to help much. That went out the window though with a $47,000/year tuition bill that the government says we need to help with even though he is an adult in every other way according to them. This can really bite you in the butt if you don’t know about it ahead of time.
    Jennifer @ MySweetSanity recently posted..Passion Fruit ShortbreadMy Profile

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