In the previous chapter of the Ultimate College Prep Guide, we discussed the process of filling out college applications. We went over all the resources your student will need to complete their applications and gave advice on what to do if your student doesn’t get the response they expect the first time around.

In this chapter we’ll tackle the part of the college application process the extends past the actual application — how to pay for college. Higher education in the US is undeniably expensive, especially if your student is planning to go to a private institution. But there are quite a few options that you and your student can explore to help pay this cost and get the college experience they want most.

Here’s what you’ll learn in this chapter:

How Do You Know If You Qualify for Financial Aid?

To start the process of applying for need-based financial aid, you will first need to fill out one or two forms: the FAFSA and/or the CSS Profile. Most colleges and universities only require the FAFSA, but about 200 colleges also require the CSS Profile.

  • The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the application for obtaining federal loans, grants, and work-study. It is used by schools both public and private in determining how federal aid (and some state aid) is disbursed.
  • The CSS Profile is usually required by private colleges and universities to determine eligibility for non-government financial aid such as the institution grants, loans, and scholarships.

Once these forms are submitted, they’re used to calculate your family’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC) towards the cost of college. The EFC is then subtracted from a college’s total cost of attendance to determine whether a student qualifies for need-based financial aid.

To estimate your EFC, you can use this Quick Reference Table. The intersection of the number of dependent children you have and your AGI (aggregate gross income) will give you an approximate of your federal EFC based on parental income only.

EFC Table

Keep in mind this table doesn’t take into account any parent or student assets which may bring up your EFC. Your EFC will also be split equally if you have more than one student in college.

Your EFC will determine one of two possible outcomes:

  • Your child qualifies for need-based financial aid. This means they are eligible for need-based grants, scholarships, work-study or student loans as part of their financial aid package. You’ll have to wait and see exactly what your child is offered by the university.
  • Your child does not qualify for need-based fina