As NCPS heads into our 12th financial aid filing season, I am always surprised at the number of people that ask me, “How much money can I get from FAFSA?”

I’ve got news for you – NONE. The FAFSA does not give you a single cent.

What does FAFSA actually do for me?

FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid .

The FAFSA takes all of the information you provide to calculate your Expected Family Contribution. That’s it. That’s all the FAFSA does. Your EFC is the base amount you can expect to pay at most universities and is the starting point for calculating need-based aid at your schools. The FAFSA will tell you if you might be eligible for federal grant programs such as Pell Grants or Federal Student Education Opportunity Grants, but it will not tell you how much money you will receive from each school.

It’s difficult enough to pronounce (FAF-SA), but to navigate it can take a great deal of patience. I often compare completing the FAFSA to filing my taxes. When I was a straight W2 employee with no children or write-offs, it was easy to file my own taxes. The form was lengthy but not impossible. Then I got married, my husband started his own business, we were blessed with children. All of these complicated our taxes exponentially, and for as capable as I felt I was (coming from a financial and mortgage background), I knew that I wasn’t getting back as much as I could if I worked with someone who knew all of the nuances of the tax code. 

The FAFSA is a very similar situation. If you have a straightforward income and asset profile it should be reasonably easy for you to complete. BUT that doesn’t mean there won’t be areas that are unclear or confusing. Similar to a 1040 – there are A LOT of fields to go through. DON’T BE DETERRED. Use the resources and information at STUDENTAID.GOV to help guide you through the FAFSA or call a trusted resource like NCPS to answer your questions and make sure you’re getting the maximum financial aid your family deserves!

I thought I couldn’t get money if I didn’t file a FAFSA…

That is very true. You cannot get federal aid without filing a FAFSA. Some families won’t qualify for need-based aid, but if you are hoping to receive student or parent loans, you must submit a FAFSA. Many colleges and universities have donors that set up scholarship funds for students with specific financial criteria. Oftentimes these can only be accessed if you file a FAFSA – yes, that can even apply to families who didn’t think they would qualify for anything.

What is the Expected Family Contribution?

EFC is calculated through a formula that is determined by federal law, not the individual institutions. This formula is the same for every single family, but each family may see very different outcomes. You must complete the FAFSA accurately to ensure you are getting all of the aid you are entitled to. The lower your EFC, the more aid you can expect to see. Schools and scholarship programs use their discretion to determine your financial aid using the EFC and other information provided in the FAFSA. Each school can apply professional discretion to determine the students’ need. So although schools are using the same basic formula as a starting point – each university has the ultimate decision on how much aid you receive.

Now you know – you don’t get money from FAFSA, but to access funds from colleges, universities, and federal loan resources, you must file the FAFSA.  Have questions? We’re here to help. Contact us at 805.624.7800 or at

Are you considering a private university? You may have to complete the CSS Profile as well. Watch for my next blog when we talk about the even more confusing and invasive CSS Profile…