What Is a Good EFC Number? (& Real-World Tips to Help)

We've got you covered with the meaning behind the number, plus a few ways to manage when your EFC number is too high for your family.

Updated March 8, 2024
Saving for College

We've all gone through the stress of applying for college financial aid, but one of the best ways to reduce the anxiety is to get a little better understanding of the meaning behind some of the acronyms and numbers on the forms. Don't worry if you're trying to understand the EFC number and what it means on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  You've got this. Even better, there are good ways to help keep your EFC number low before it's assigned and to max out your chances of getting more aid.

What Is a Good EFC Number?

A lot of parents misunderstand how an EFC number is used, so no worries if you're a bit unsure. People generally assumed that a low EFC number is a better number, and that's mostly true. In general, a lower EFC number will result in a higher award from the government.

Need to Know

An EFC number is the "expected family contribution," or the amount a family is expected to pay for their student's college education. In short, the EFC affects how much federal grant money you will be given for college expenses.

Here's how it works. Once your FAFSA form is received, the schools arrive at a number between 0 and 5273 for your family. EFC numbers are calculated by schools using the same scale as the government uses. That number will result in a federal student aid grant for the following academic year. Your EFC number is calculated by taking into account a few factors: 

  • Family size, including the number of family members currently enrolled in college
  • Parental income and assets
  • Student income and assets

Low vs. High EFC Numbers

Any person with an EFC number at 0 will receive the maximum amount of student aid, while a number over 5273 will result in no aid at all. The numbers, and the amount awarded, fluctuate annually. The closer you can get to zero, the more federal dollars you'll have to help pay for tuition and fees.

EFC Number Meaning and Impact

A number is just a number, but in this case, it can have a big impact. If your family receives a low EFC number that is still higher than what is affordable, it is not a good EFC number.

For example, an EFC number of 500 means that your family is expected to pay at least $500 to cover tuition and fees, and you may be eligible to receive aid to cover tuition up to that amount. Even though 500 is a fairly low EFC number, if your family already lives on a tight budget, finding an extra $500 may seem impossible. This makes it a bad EFC number.

Proactive Ways to Make Your EFC Number Better

Once you get your EFC number, there's nothing you can do to change it. There is no way to lower your EFC number without hiding assets and engaging in other illegal activity, and obviously, that isn't a road you want to travel down. However, if you plan in advance, you may be able to slightly lower your EFC number before it's assigned using some smart strategies:

  • Paying off debt
  • Not placing savings accounts in the student's name
  • Reducing assets by purchasing big-ticket items before the FAFSA is filled out
  • Having grandparents, instead of parents, establish 529 college savings plans
  • Enrolling more family members, such as parents, in college

Related: 9 Things Your College Freshman Wants You to Know

Making Your EFC Number Work for You

If you don't feel comfortable with those options or they don't seem feasible, there are ways to make your EFC number less of a burden. These are a few tried-and-true methods.

Apply for Scholarships

Students typically complete and submit the FAFSA and get their EFC number before applying for scholarships. Merit-based scholarships (including those for artistic and athletic ability) do not usually take into account the EFC number. If you have an EFC number of 1200 and get a scholarship for $1,000 a year, suddenly, your family is only responsible for $200.

In addition, if you have an EFC number that you think you can't afford, you may apply for need-based scholarships through the college or independent organizations.

Get a Job (Not Always a Work-Study Job)

An EFC number under 5273 often qualifies you for a work-study job. While most of these jobs are catered to students, giving them flexible hours and time to study, their pay is often low, and any money earned is directly applied toward tuition and fees.

If you qualify for a work-study job, you have the option of turning it down. You may be able to get a job off campus or a higher-paying position on campus and make money above what the work-study position offers. However, you must be disciplined enough to apply your earnings toward tuition and fees.

Choose a Different School

This decision is difficult for students who have their hearts set on attending a specific college. However, even a low EFC number doesn't guarantee that a school will provide 100% financial aid. If the amount of money you receive in federal financial aid covers a significant portion of your school's tuition and fees, you may have better luck getting the additional funds covered through your school's financial aid department than if you would still owe thousands of dollars after federal financial aid is applied.

Work With Your EFC

Overall, there is no such thing as a bad EFC number as long as your family can afford to pay or cover with scholarships the EFC and whatever the difference is between financial aid and tuition. Regardless of your EFC, it's important to find ways besides federal grants to pay for college. Seek out colleges that guarantee to cover a student's full financial need, or, if you have a low EFC, seek out scholarships that consider a student's financial need before awarding the scholarship. Ultimately, it's all about working with the options you have so you can make college affordable for your family.

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What Is a Good EFC Number? (& Real-World Tips to Help)