Cost is a factor for most people in deciding where to go to school, but with your financial aid package, you could end up paying far below sticker price.
The equation used to calculate financial need is: COA-EFC=Financial Need. COA (cost of attendance) is the summation of all expected yearly expenses of attending of attending a particular college or university. COA includes tuition, room, board, books/supplies, transportation and other personal expenses. EFC (expected family contribution) is the amount your family is expected to contribute toward your education based off of your family’s financial strength, and it is calculated by filling out the FAFSA.

When a school puts together a financial aid package, it can include a combination of scholarships, grants, loans, and paid opportunities to work on campus. Though you can use the above formula to calculate your financial need, most schools will not meet your need completely. In 2012, there were only 64 undergraduate schools that met 100% of everyone’s financial need. The list of those institutions can be found here.

While those schools meet 100% of need, that does not necessarily mean that all of their 4-year graduates are leaving debt free. Loans, which can we part of your financial aid package to help meet your need, must to be paid back, whereas scholarships and grants are essentially free money that does not need to be repaid.

Here I will walk you through a sample of how to estimate the amount of assistance you will receive from a school of your choice.

1. Determine your EFC by completing the FAFSA. For the purpose of this example, lets say that your EFC is calculated to be \$15,000.

2. Pick a school to target, for example Penn State main campus.

3. Go to collegeboard.com, search the school name, and click on the tab titled “paying” on the left-hand side.  There you can find the estimated total COA. The COA for Penn State University Park is currently \$31,720 if you live on campus.

4. Now click on tab above that reads “Financial Aid By the Numbers.” On this page you can find the percentage of need met, which in this case is 59%.

5. There is also a pie chart on this page that indicates the percentage of their aid attributed to the categories of scholarships/grants and loans/jobs. Out of the financial aid distributed by Penn State University Park, 39% is from scholarships and grants and 61% is from loans and jobs.

6. To calculate your financial need take the COA minus EFA.
\$31,720-\$15,000=\$16,720

7. To calculate your total estimated financial aid package, take your financial need and multiply it by the percentage of financial aid met.
\$16,720*.59=\$9,684.80

8. Then to calculate how much of that aid you are responsible for earning or paying back, multiplying your total estimated financial aid package by their percentage of financial aid in the loans/jobs categorization.
\$9,684.80*.61=\$5,907.73

9. When you add that number to your EFC, you will find the ballpark amount that you should expect to pay for your first year.
\$15,000+\$5,907.73=\$20,907.73

10. If you want to calculate your total expense for all 4 years, multiply each consecutive year by 1.0328, and then add them all together. Over the past 10 years, college expenses have increased an average of 3.28% annually.
\$20,907.73*1.0328=\$21,539.50
\$21,539.50*1.0328=\$22,246.00
\$22,246.00*1.0328=\$22,975.67
\$20,907.73+\$21,539.50+\$22,246.00+\$22,975.67=\$87,668.90

This method will not be completely accurate since the formula runs off of averages and the calculation for EFC changes yearly, but it will give you a good approximation. This can just sit in the back of your mind, as one of the many factors in helping you decide which schools to apply to.

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