The primary factor in determining the amount of aid you receive is your financial need. The following formula shows how financial need is calculated:
Cost of Attendance - Expected Family Contribution = Financial Need
Determining Cost of Attendance (COA)
The Office of Financial Aid at the school you want to attend or are attending calculates your COA for an academic year based upon certain assumptions and certain individual factors. Cost of Attendance includes tuition and fees, as well as allowances for books and supplies, living expenses, transportation, and personal costs. Factors such as course of study, grade level, residency status, etc. are also used in determining your COA.
Determining Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is the amount that you (and your parents if you are a dependent student) are expected to contribute to your educational costs. This figure is determined from all the data you and your parents supply on the FAFSA and/or the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE Application. There are currently two main formulas used to determine the EFC: the Federal Methodology (FM) and the Institutional Methodology (IM). The Federal Methodology is used by the federal government to calculate eligibility for federal aid. The Institutional Methodology is used by many colleges to calculate eligibility for institutional aid programs. The EFC is mainly determined by considering family income and assets, number of family members, and number of family members in college.
Determining Financial Need
Your financial need is calculated as being the difference between the Cost of Attendance and the Expected Family Contribution, as demonstrated by the formula above. The amount of aid you receive is then based upon your financial need but may vary from school to school depending on educational costs, aid policies, and amount of aid available to give. In general, the higher your financial need, the greater your eligibility for gift aid (money that you do not have to pay back) or other need based aid, such as Federal Subsidized Stafford Loans. Even if you have no financial need, you are still able to receive non-need based aid, such as certain scholarships or Federal Unsubsidized Stafford Loans.
If your college offers aid that is less than your financial need, then you have a financial aid gap. Your financial aid office should be able to work with you and make recommendations to help you pay for the difference between the amount you have been awarded and the actual cost of attendance.