Skip to Content
African-American mother and young teenage daughter taking a selfie and family is planning for her college.
College Planning

How schools determine what you are expected to pay

Curious as to how much financial aid you can receive to help pay for a college education? Colleges use various methods to determine your EFC, which in turn helps decide your eligible financial aid.

When students apply to colleges, schools use the financial information they submit via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile to calculate their Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

Schools use one of the three methods listed below to determine the minimum dollar amount that your family will be expected to contribute towards the costs of your education during the coming school year. This number is then subtracted from the college's Cost of Attendance (COA) to determine how much money for college you'll need in the form of both need-based aid such as student loans or grants, and non-need-based aid such as academic or athletic scholarships.

Federal methodology

The majority of colleges and universities will only require students to fill out FAFSA. These schools rely solely on the Federal Methodology to determine your EFC. A student's family's taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits can all be used to determine their EFC via the Federal Methodology formula. The Federal Methodology also takes into consideration how many children in a student's family will be attending college or career school while you are also enrolled. Your EFC will be calculated and reported back to you on your Student Aid Report (SAR). You can find more information about how the EFC is calculated using the Federal Methodology at the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid website.

Institutional methodology

Schools who also require you to fill out the College Board's CSS Profile, in addition to the FAFSA, usually rely on Institutional Methodology to determine a student's EFC and assess how much more money for college you'll need. These “profile” colleges require more financial information about a prospective student's family than schools that only rely on the FAFSA/Federal Methodology do, and they take into account a wider variety of financial factors, such as the value of a family's home, the expected contributions of non-custodial parents, a family's business assets, and the family's personal and business debts. You can read more about Institutional Methodology at the College Board's website.

Consensus methodology

The Consensus Methodology is only used by a limited number of schools, referred to as the 568 Presidents' Group. Like the Institutional Methodology, it requires students and their families to fill out a CSS Profile, but the Consensus Methodology uses a slightly different formula to calculate your EFC than the Institutional Methodology. Factors such as a parent's income, home equity, and any 529 college savings plan are weighed differently in the Consensus Methodology than in the Federal or Institutional Methodology.

If you need a refresher course on how student loans work, or you'd like to learn more about 529 college savings plans, or where you can find more money for college, we have all the information you need in the Protective Learning Center.



Arrows linking indicating relationship

Related Articles

Grandmother and college-age granddaughter walking down city street wearing sunglasses and backpacks

A few tax-beneficial ways grandparents can gift money for college

Learn more
Female sitting in a desk chair in a room with a large window.

Five important steps before you complete the FAFSA

Learn more
Happy daughter and father share a hug

Student loans: Can parents pay off their child's college debt?

Learn more
All Learning Center articles are general summaries that can be used when considering your financial future at various life stages. The information presented is for educational purposes and is meant to supplement other information specific to your situation. It is not intended as investment advice and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Protective or its subsidiaries.

Learning Center articles may describe services and financial products not offered by Protective or its subsidiaries. Descriptions of financial products contained in Learning Center articles are not intended to represent those offered by Protective or its subsidiaries.

Neither Protective nor its representatives offer legal or tax advice. We encourage you to consult with your financial adviser and legal or tax adviser regarding your individual situations before making investment, social security, retirement planning, and tax-related decisions. For information about Protective and its products and services, visit

Companies and organizations linked from Learning Center articles have no affiliation with Protective or its subsidiaries.