Does low EFC hurt chances for admission?

Hey everyone.

Situation: S22 is applying for colleges, some of which are safe/match OOS schools he really wants to attend. His parents (his mother and I) are divorced. His mother is the custodial parent, is self-employed, and has managed to (legally and ethically) structure her finances such that her AGI is very low. It’s producing a very low EFC when S22 fills out the FAFSA.

Question: Would submitting a FAFSA application with a very low EFC hurt a student’s admission chances to a school they would otherwise easily qualify for? Will the OOS school think, “Hmm, this kid is qualified and wants to go here, but with that extremely low EFC we’ll have to give him a tremendous amount of financial aid for him to be able to attend, so let’s pass.”

Maybe I’m worrying unnecessarily, but I am worrying about it. I have saved money for college and would be able to cash-flow for most of the OOS school expenses. Certainly we’d like to pay less if we’re able to, but there is in fact money that the schools won’t see, since my information is not on the FAFSA forms.

Thanks for any help!

Most top private schools also require the CSS form which requires non-custodial parent’s information. Check out this list to see if your kid’s targets are listed:


Yes, a low EFC can hurt an applicant’s chances of admission at need aware schools. What schools are on the list?

Is he applying to FAFSA only schools? Most FAFSA only schools don’t meet full need.

Some schools, mostly private, also require CSS Profile, which asks for non-custodial parent financials as well.


If she is self employed, everyone needs to understand that there are some deductions allowed for IRS purposes (that will lower your AGI) that are added back in as income by SOME colleges for financial aid purposes.

If this is an OOS public university, most of them are need blind for admissions…meaning your student’s level of need will not be considered at all when his application for admission is considered.

To verify each college’s position on this…contact the colleges and simply ask “is your college need blind for admissions?”

Some colleges are need aware for admissions meaning that admissions considers your level of financial need when considering your application for admission. I can’t think of a public university that is need aware. But someone here can chime in because I certainly don’t know every public university policy.

As noted, there are private colleges that use the Profile as well as the FAFSA.

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Do not be surprised if some colleges want your financial information: FAQ: Divorced parents, financial aid, and net price calculators

Regarding your title question, probably about 70% of colleges in the US say that they are need-blind for admission, while the rest may consider financial need in admission. Need-awareness may more likely to come into play for applicants closer to the margin of admission or denial, and larger need may have more effect than smaller need. Need-blind or need-aware status does not indicate whether the college will offer good financial aid for any given financial situation.

However, note that correlates of need or lack thereof are often used in admission (e.g. legacy correlates to lower need, and first-generation-to-college correlates to higher need, even though there are some applicants who are exceptions to these correlations).

Also note that, for colleges where the applicant appears “overqualified”, some colleges consider “level of applicant’s interest” to try to determine if the college is really one of the applicant’s high choices, or a low choice that the applicant is unlikely to attend if admission (because the applicant will have admission to more selective colleges that most consider more desirable). In the latter case, the college may deny or waitlist the applicant in order to have higher yield of those whom it does admit.

Some OOS publics do NOT provide any financial aid for nonresidents. The State of California is one that doesn’t provide funds and OOS students pay full fees regardless of income level. If the student qualifies for “federal” grants and loans, that funding is a drop in the bucket when total OOS fees are taken into account.

Public universities tend to be funded by their state taxpayers, and the obligations are to in-state residents, since monies are tight.


Our son fell into that exact situation. He attended a CA Public from OOS and had a tiny (but the biggest the school offered) merit scholarship. That left us paying about $35K per year. We’d saved so it wasn’t a problem.

Midway through his schooling, we started a new business. The startup costs reduced our EFC so low that he got a Pell, but nothing else (Your EFC has to be close to zero, but a Pell is only $6k or so).

That left a $27K funding gap that a family without savings would not be able to close.


Most applicants face two types of admissions hurdles:

  1. Whether or not offered admission to attend the college or university as a student, and

  2. Whether or not offered adequate financial aid (need based, merit, or other) to enable that student to be able to afford to attend that particular college or university.

Some schools are need aware and evaluate applications for admissions partially on the ability of that applicant to pay the COA. So, yes,a low EFC may affect one’s chances for admission to need aware schools. Other schools may admit, but effectively deny the student admission by offering inadequate financial aid.


That’s true about the California publics not giving need based aid to OOS students, but some OOS students do get Regents scholarships, anywhere between $2K and $10K per year. I don’t know how common it is, but I personally know several students who have received these scholarships. Of course, that still leaves $55K-$63K in costs, assuming $65K OOS COA.

Ok thanks everyone–really helpful answers here.

I think a call is in order to the college he’s most interested in to find out if they’re need-blind when it comes to admissions.

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I believe FAFSA is changing things up in 2023 and basing need on the the financials of the parent with the highest income.

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That change happens for the 2023-24 FAFSA.

It’s a little academic, because either way, you won’t know his award until he has it in hand.

I’d strongly suggest he not fall in love with any school, but rather apply to a handful that he’d be happy at any of. Then you can weigh the finances of all of them.


Right, so it will go into effect during some college years for the OP’s student.

Yes. Unless they attend a college where aid is guaranteed for all four years (there are a few of those)….or the student receives merit aid (which is not income dependent).

But after accepted, that new guideline won’t affect admissions🙄

I know it won’t, but if you expect the same FA all 4 years and don’t know about the changes, you can pick the wrong college. The OP states his ex set up her financials in such a way as to appear to be as low as possible, if the student is eligible for FA now, it can be lost the following year due to the changes.


A low EFC typically means very little. At OOS publics it means nothing, ie., the EFC could be 40,000 or zero, the university is need blind and doesn’t meet need, meaning they admit you and you figure how to pay for it. If you cant- not their problem.
Most OOS public universities fall under that category.

Some universities (the most selective and prestigious ie Harvard, Stanford, Pomona, Williams, MIT, etc, etc, plus, I think UVA, UMichigan…?) are both need blind and meet need, meaning they don’t know how much you can afford and, if you’re among the lucky few they choose to admit, they’ll fill the gap between their cost of attendance and what the family can pay – but that estimation is NOT based on FAFSA but on the CSS Profile, which BOTH parents must fill out (ie., yours as well as your ex-wife’s, plus any spouse you may now have).

Finally, some universities meet need, but are need aware: they will use the CSS profile and both parents’ income to determine how much the family can afford and students whose parents’ incomes and assets would require too much financial aid don’t get in.

Meet need/need aware and meet need/need blind universities are about 80 out of 3,700. All others are “need blind/don’t meet need”.

As a result, your child must run the NPC on every college in order to see how much it would cost (each college has their own formula).
You and his mother also need to talk between yourself about how much you can afford to contribute. 25% of each income is fairly common…


It will based on the parent who gives the most support, and only if the parents give equal support will it be based on the the parent who has the highest income. It’s very possible that this family can arrange it for the mother to still give the most support (if the child is almost self supporting, if child support stops at 18, etc)

I guess the other option is to go ahead and apply, wait for acceptance in mid-late January, and then submit FAFSA. The risk there I guess is that there are limited funds at that point, but at least there would be no risk of hurting admission chances.

Check the deadlines for submission if you are applying for need based aid. Don’t miss the deadlines.

If you need aid, complete the forms.

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