What To Expect When Paying For College?

Melissa Cox CFP® CFLSA

What Is the Expected Family Contribution and What Does It Mean?

When starting the college planning journey there are many topics to add to your checklist. Majors, locations, financial aid, scholarships... the list goes on and on. As you begin to plan ahead for your children’s transition to college, one of the most important aspects centers on your family’s expected contribution to the cost of their education and how will this impact all of your lives going forward?

So often people look at the schools financial aid office to determine where their child can attend, but did you know that not all colleges use the same methods for determining what your family is expected to contribute?

And that can make a large difference in terms of how much money your family is expected to pay. Most families have a contribution number in their heads, but it is often vastly different than the number that is calculated on the financial aid calculators.

EFC or Expected Family Contribution is calculated in three different ways.

Melissa Cox CFP explains the Expected Family Contribution

In other words, there is no one set way that colleges determine what your family is expected to contribute towards your child’s education. Most people are not aware of this and as part of looking into what college your child will attend, this is avital part of what we can cover as we work together.

Planning ahead for college admission and costs must include an understanding of the EFC and its impact on paying for college to your family.

Here at Cox Collegiate Planners we will look at the schools that not only serve your child academically, but we look at how they determine your family’s EFC and what that means for you.

The monetary differences can be significant and we want to begin working together early with this in mind. So, how do these methods differ, you may ask?

The three methods for determining a family’s EFC are as follows:

Melissa Cox FP explains the three methods of calculating the Expected Family Contribution

  1.   The Federal Method – Based on the FAFSA form, it looks at assets, taxes, and cost of attendance, and so forth. The Department of Education creates a Student Aid Report (SAR) that will explain what the anticipated financial aid is alongside of the ECF. Accredited schools nationwide use this method.
  2.   The Institutional Method – Primarily utilized by private college as well as a handful of state schools, this method uses the CSS profile form and counts assets such as family farms or homes in EFC calculations. Additional forms maybe required that are provided by the school. Generally speaking, schools that utilize this method expect higher EFC from the students’ families.
  3.  The Consensus Method – While this method uses as its base the CSS Form, it also differs significantly in a variety of ways. For example, this method only assesses home equity up to 120% of the family income. This means you may reside in a more expensive home, but that will not count you against you in applying for financial aid. Also, it is assessing what the family can pay and is less focused on the various types of aid that may be applied.  


This is a lot to take in, especially since parents are rarely aware of the three methods and how they impact your bottom line. Without this knowledge, you may find yourself in a situation where the home you reside in may count against you, thus increasing what your estimated contribution is towards your child’s education.

Cox Collegiate Planners was founded on the idea that there has to be a better way to plan for college.

Melissa Cox CFP founded Cox Collegiate Planners to help families create comprehensive college funding plans.

I have seen many students, like myself, graduating with debt. I also saw families who found themselves facing questions about whether or not they could come up with the required EFC without downgrading their lifestyles significantly.

The goal of Cox Collegiate Planners is to help educated and empower families to make informed choices in the college planning journey. We aim to balance lifestyle with financial and education goals.

Unfortunately there is a disjointed amount of information related to paying for college available to most families. Colleges and financial aid offices do there best to educate perspective students and their families about funding tuition, but it is often too late to make a difference in the student's net cost of education.

Click here for you family's Free College Money Report.

Sending your child to college should not meant that you have to significantly reduce your lifestyle or that they should miss out on a wonderful education, simply because better options were available that you were unaware of.

By starting the college planning process early, your family untangle the labyrinth that is college and create a comprehensive plan to pay for it

With the help of Melissa Cox CFP your family can untangle the labyrinth of college planning

Including how we select schools and examine their EFC before your family tours the campus.

Let’s meet and discuss this early in their high school career and chart a course that will benefit your child, but also the family and your lifestyle. There is a better way to plan for college and I made it my goal to provide services that will guide you through this process.

Together, we can do this and I look forward to meeting with you to create a comprehensive college plan for your family's future.


Give us a call and let's build a plan for your child's education.


Schedule an appointment with Melissa Cox CFP

Melissa Anne Cox CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ is also a College Funding and Student Loan Advisor, and Financial Coach in Dallas, Texas.

Overwhelmed by student loan debt?