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What's Your Financial Need?
By Joanna Salinas

If you’re trying to figure out just how you’re going to pay for a college education, you’re not the only one. With the rising cost of attending college, more than 80 percent of college students seek financial aid to make it happen.

There are a variety of sources out there to choose from, but you’ve got to be eligible and get approved to get the money. The Department of Education will provide more than $67 billion this year, about 70 percent of all student aid, to help millions of students and families pay for higher education. But to receive this money, you must determine your financial need.

The determination process may seem overwhelming and tedious. However, if you’re well informed, you will be more likely to be successful.

The basics
First you must fill out and submit a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Those nice people in your college financial aid office will use the information you provide on this form to determine your financial need.

After receiving the FAFSA information from the Department of Education, the financial aid office at your prospective college determines your expected family contribution from how much the school costs to arrive at your financial need using the following formula: Cost of attendance-Expected family contribution= Your financial need.

Cost of attendance

Colleges generally publish their cost of attendance (COA) information in their admission materials and/or on their Web sites. A college’s COA is made up of the following:

tuition and fees at the college for a year

average housing and dining costs

books and supplies

travel to and from school

day-to-day expenses

expected family contribution

The expected family contribution (EFC) is the amount that you and/or your family are expected to contribute to your education. This figure is calculated with the information you provide on your FAFSA, as well as your family’s most recent income tax returns.

Considerations are made for income, family size, and the number of children who are full-time undergraduate students.

Financial need

If there’s a discrepancy between after using the formula and if there is an amount left over, you are considered to have financial need. If you are determined eligible, you will receive an award letter detailing your financial aid. It will list the types of aid offered to you for the academic year for which you applied. This is your financial aid award package.

The determination process may sound difficult, but there is help out there. There are financial aid experts who can help you make sense out of the process and enable you to get all the financial aid assistance that you are eligible for. But asking for financial aid help doesn’t mean your job is done.

Gary Musler, a financial-aid expert and founder of The College Service Center, Inc., says, “It’s not enough to fill out the forms and cross your fingers.” Ultimately, it’s up to you to follow through in your quest for financial aid!


This article is provided by The Next Step Magazine (, a publication that helps students prepare for life after high school.