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A large number of families across the U.S. have trouble paying up the entire amount of their children’s tuition from their private funds—and they aren’t really expected to. Families turn to financial aid. This is usually in the form of federal student loans, scholarships, grants, and even private student loans.

Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) is how much a family is expected to pay out of pocket towards tuition. However, sometimes parents can’t afford to, or even refuse to pay up for their child’s tuition, which results in the child not being able to cover up the EFC. If you find yourself in this situation, it helps to know what are your options.

What is EFC?

EFC is a major component in determining the extent of financial aid you can get. The EFC is determined by the federal government based on the information you provide in your FAFSA. The FAFSA is a mandatory application for any student who wishes to apply for financial aid.

When you fill out the FAFSA, you have to provide details of the total income of your parents, their expenses, their assets and other financial information. This information is used to determine how much your parents can contribute and how much of the tuition will come from financial aid. There may be a few variations in the calculation process when it comes to individual schools, but the essence of it remains the same.

There may be several reasons why your parents aren’t able to meet the EFC ranging from higher expenses than calculated, inability to liquidate assets or even disagreements with your choice of school.

Whatever the reason, these tips will help you resolve this challenging situation.

Discuss your Options With Your Parents

It is essential to understand the details of the situation, and no one knows it better than your parents. Discussing your options can help your parents and you understand how much they can afford to put towards your education, and whether they can help out with smaller amounts at a later date.

In any case, a discussion with them will help you chart out a plan for the future. At the very least, it will enable you to explain the situation to various schools to see how they may be able to help you out.

Understand How Your EFC Was Derived

Once the situation at home is cleared up, and you have all the required details with you, your next step should be to call up the schools you are considering and explain the situation to them. You may be surprised to see that they may be a lot more helpful than you thought.

Typically, schools calculate EFC differently from the government. In addition, some schools consider medical expenses while some don’t. Understanding how your EFC was calculated can help you negotiate a better figure.

Sometimes, schools use their need-based aid to cover unforeseen events such as loss of a job or illnesses. So, if there is a change in your financial situation since you filed the FAFSA, you may be eligible for it.

Also, if your academic profile is strong, you may be able to use it to get a better award package.

Appeal your Financial Aid Award

If this doesn’t work out, consider filing a formal appeal to then for reconsideration of your financial ability to pay the EFC. This will typically involve a lengthy and complicated process wherein all the details of your financial status and current situation including health records, if necessary, have to be submitted to the college.

While it might seem like you are compromising on your privacy, there is no other way to get colleges to reconsider their estimates other than proving that they are overestimating your capability to pay. This will also require careful handling of the situation since you will need to keep in touch with the financial aid office, but you have to be careful not to bombard them with frequent calls and emails.

Apply For Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships are the best way to get much-needed free funding towards your college education. Some of the most well-known scholarships are merit based, but don’t let that discourage you. You can find scholarships awarded for a wide range of reasons, from athletic, academic and creative accomplishments to belonging to a certain culture. Spending some time looking for scholarship opportunities and apply to all that you are eligible for. Remember, there is no limit to the amount of money you can accept.

Grants are another source of free money offered to students who can demonstrate financial need. Look into the various grants offered and apply to those you are eligible for. You will need to submit all financial documentation to avail of grants.

Work Part-Time or Freelance

Taking up a part-time job can be a great way to gain some experience and earn money towards your college education. Don’t be tempted to take on too many hours though as your grades could suffer, creating other problems for you.

Another avenue is to take up freelance jobs that play to your talents, whether it is writing, website developing, graphic design or virtual assistance. The good news is it is pretty easy to sign up on various online portals and advertise your talents to get work from across the globe.

Take A Year Off

Taking a gap year can give you and your parents some time to shore up the money that you need to fund your education. It also gives you the opportunity to take up a job and contribute towards your college tuition if your parents cannot meet the EFC.

Consider Private Student Loans

This option is the last on the list for a reason. Private student loans of any kind are a double-edged sword. While they may help you meet the school fees, you will have to pay them back with interest, and interest on private loans can add up to a substantial amount. Before taking on any private student loans make sure that you take into consideration your earning potential after you graduate.

That being said, sometimes private loans are unavoidable. If that’s the case, you need to find a loan that fits your needs. With College Raptor’s free Student Loan Finder, you can compare lenders and interest rates side by side.