Net Price Calculator...EFC...CSS Profile

Rookie advisor here with a few financial aid questions. Your help is greatly appreciated.

  1. Is the Net Price Calculator basically a shortened version of the CSS Profile?
  2. Can I, as a parent, calculate my EFC without completing the CSS Profile?
  3. If I can calculate my EFC without completing the CSS Profile, and my EFC is >50K, should I bother filling out CSS?
  1. No.
  2. No.
  3. N/A with the "no" answer to #2.

For distributing institutional aid, each school has its own NPC to calculate its own EFC. Students/parents cannot simply figure out an EFC by themselves. If a school requires completion of FAFSA and/or Profile to be eligible for institutional funds, you will need to jump through those hoops.

EFC (expected family contribution) is a FEDERAL term. It is the number that FAFSA spits out after you complete FAFSA. Your EFC determines your eligibility for FEDERAL financial aid (and in some cases state aid). Federal financial aid includes: Pell Grant, Stafford loans, and work-study funds. If you want to calculate your EFC, do the FAFSA (new one comes out on October 1).

CSS, which has nothing to do with federal aid, has nothing to do with your EFC.

Second thing to know is that EFC is not what you will pay. Crazy, right? It’s called “expected family contribution,” but that is not necessarily what you will pay. It’s more of an index than a real monetary number.

Some colleges (the ones that don’t use CSS) will use your answers on the FAFSA to determine institutional aid (financial aid that comes from the college’s own funds). But most colleges that use FAFSA only (do not use CSS) do not have much institutional aid to give. The ones that use FAFSA AND CSS have the most to give.

If you want to know if you should “bother” filling out FAFSA and CSS, do the NPC (net price calculator) for each school you’re interested in. It is custom for each school. It accounts for any federal aid and institutional aid you’re likely to get. Do the NPCs to get an idea of what each college will cost for YOU.

Please know that the Net Price Calculators are most accurate for US families that have never divorced, don’t own property other than the family home, and don’t own a business. If your situation varies from that, and the NPC doesn’t clearly account for the particular differences that your family has in the questions, then the results might not be a good estimate of your final costs.

For clarification, some schools that provide institutional funds do compute their own EFC (and even call it that), separately from the FAFSA EFC and usually using CSS Profile responses, so EFC is not strictly a federal term. On the mostly good side, when schools compute their own EFC, it usually really is what the family will need to contribute, after government aid (including direct student loans) and institutional aid is factored in. On the bad side, be on the lookout for schools that compute their own EFC and sneak in parent PLUS loans as part of the offered “aid”: “Hey, look, our COA is $70k+, but with all the aid being offered, your EFC as computed by the college is $0!”


If you are trying to figure out your net costs at a school that requires the Profile…here are your answers.

  1. Is the Net Price Calculator basically a shortened version of the CSS Profile?
  1. Can I, as a parent, calculate my EFC without completing the CSS Profile?
  1. If I can calculate my EFC without completing the CSS Profile, and my EFC is >50K, should I bother filling out CSS?

As noted…are you divorced, self employed, own a business, own real estate other than your primary residence, an international student? If yes to any of these, the net price calculators might not be so accurate.

And lastly, if you can’t afford a school that is >$50,000 a year, look for less costly options. They are out there.

What college calls it an EFC when it’s a computed and presented FA award? That would be very confusing, and in those cases, it would not be “expected.” It’s the award, as you said. It sounds like the OP wants to get an estimate beforehand. Best way to do that is the NPC (with the caveats stated upthread).

I actually would have answered yes to all the questions, if what the OP is asking is whether there’s a way to get an estimate of financial aid without filling out the CSS. (There was simply some confusion in the question about what the CSS is).

The NPCs will give a good estimate of what each school will expect a family to contribute and how much aid can be expected to fill the gap. Some schools have a very simple MyIntuition calculator you could start with. You’ll need to complete one for each school, as each school will use a different formula.

I think the rationale for filling out the various financial aid forms even if you don’t expect need-based aid is that some schools might require those forms when considering merit scholarships, or for other non-FA reasons. You could ask each school.

Quick question: I’m reading the comments above where several mentioned that NPC cannot calculate divorced families accurately. Can I assume that if everything is the same, divorced families would get more aid from colleges?

E.g. in the following two scenarios, assuming combined HHI is the same, assets (other than the apartment and mortgage mentioned below) are the same, etc, would the divorced family get more aid?

  1. Family of four, 1 kid going to college, living together (so one apartment with one mortgage)
  2. Family of four but divorced, two kids living with mom mostly (shared custody), 1 going to college. Live in separate households ( so two separate apartments with two mortgages)

It’s a small sample, but I’ve seen some NESCAC schools do this, on a statement of financial aid noted as the “final award.” It might be confusing for those who aren’t aware of a difference between a FAFSA EFC and a school’s independently calculated EFC, but at least at a meets full need school, it’s a whole more realistic than the FAFSA EFC.

It depends on whether the school is FAFSA only (requires custodial parent financials only, plus new spouse if there is one), or also requires the CSS Profile (requires both parents financials, plus any new spouses).

There is more, but you should start your own thread about this, so as not to hijack someone else’s.

No you can’t assume this.

Depends. However, if the college’s net price calculator actually asks for whether the parents are divorced, then your specific scenario may be able to be simulated in the net price calculator.

But beware of the following at colleges that require both divorced parents’ financial information:

A. When the divorced parents remarry, their new spouses’ financials get included in their households, which could make them look richer on financial aid forms. A student could potentially have four parental incomes to be used for financial aid in this case. (However, custodial parent remarriage may remove the need for non-custodial parent financials at a few colleges; Princeton is such a college.)

B. Many divorced parents are uncooperative because they are still fighting their divorce out of spite; non-cooperation will prevent getting financial aid.

C. Many divorced parents want to conceal their finances from each other, so a student trying to run the net price calculator may not get honest financial information from them (particularly the non-custodial parent), resulting in an incorrect result (GIGO).

  • Generally not. You may be able to stretch it a bit if a college uses CSS Profile and a College Board template net price calculator, but that is still stretching it.
  • You can estimate your FAFSA EFC at , but each college may calculate its own EFC different from the FAFSA EFC. You can get an estimate of a college's own EFC for you with its net price calculator. Note that net price = EFC + ESC + unmet need (ESC = expected student contribution = federal direct loan + expected student work earnings).
  • If the college's net price calculator suggests a net price lower than list price, then it would be worth applying for financial aid at that college. If that college uses CSS Profile, then you would use that form to apply for financial aid there.
  • You will need to complete whatever forms the colleges ask for. The very very vast majority of colleges that use the Profile also use the FAFSA. You will need to do both if that is what the college wants.

    Check each college website for the submissions they want you to send.

    I can only think of one college that doesn’t use the FAFSA…Principia.

    I’ve played with the Fafsa Forecaster and the IFAP and come very close to what the Fafsa EFC came to. The issue is, the Fafsa, pretty much, for many families, is only skimming the surface. The CSS goes into much more detail and colleges can be discretionary about what they count as assests you could tap to pay college expenses. Eg, cars.

    It’s unfortunate, but single parents and divorced can sometimes come out on the short end of the FA stick.

    Just because the Fafsa give you an estimate of what you theoretically can pay does not mean the college will give you the balance in awards, grants, scholarships or loans. Or sometimes, enough work study. As said, it depends on their policies and their coffers.

    Good to get a resource about this- Financial Aid for Dummies, etc. Haunt that section in your bookstore or local library.

    And remember, when a college sends the FA letter, they’re projecting certain expenses- they don’t know exactly what you’ll spend on books, personal, etc. They’re working off standard figure ranges. So it really is an “estimate” or working projection.

    It does help to be clear on the terms. Call it a Fafsa EFC to distinguish it from any other use of “EFC.”

    Hillsdale College uses its own FA form – no FAFSA or CSS Profile.