Skip to main content
Northwestern University

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is an estimate of the amount your family will be expected to contribute for your annual college expenses. The EFC is calculated based on your family’s unique financial circumstances, as reported on your financial aid application, including the FAFSA, College Board CSS Profile, and other documents. Both federal and institutional need analysis formulas are used to determine your family contribution.

The EFC typically consists of both a parent contribution and a student contribution: Students are expected to contribute to their educational costs from their own savings/assets, and usually from summer earnings as well. The parent contribution is calculated based on total income and assets, as well as household size and any siblings enrolled concurrently in college. We also note any special circumstances reported on the aid application.

What costs does financial aid cover?

Financial aid is a partnership between Northwestern and your family, and need-based aid is awarded to supplement your family’s ability to pay for college. For eligible students, your financial aid package will cover the difference between the cost of attendance and your family contribution. Financial aid packages may include a combination of scholarships, grants, loans, and part-time student employment (e.g., work-study).

Scholarships, grants, and loans are called “direct aid,” and these will apply directly to the invoice you receive from Northwestern. Your invoice will include your tuition and fees, as well as room and board if you live in University housing. In other words, your “direct aid” applies to your “direct costs” first.

What does my family cover?

Your family contribution is not necessarily the amount you will owe Northwestern. In most cases, your family contribution will cover your books and any travel expenses to campus, as well as any balance due to the University each quarter. If your financial aid package includes employment, this assistance will be paid to you in the form of paychecks for hours worked, and these funds can help you to pay for your books and personal expenses.

If the amount of your direct aid exceeds the amount of your University invoice, you may have a credit balance, or “financial aid refund,” which you can use to help with your other expenses. You may find it helpful to meet with a financial aid counselor to review your estimated billing and budgeting figures.

Will my family contribution be the same every year?

You will need to reapply for financial aid every year, but if your family’s finances remain similar from year to year (e.g., same income/asset level, same number of dependents enrolled concurrently as undergraduates, etc.), you can usually expect a similar family contribution and aid package from year to year. Changes to the number of siblings enrolled in college may affect your financial aid eligibility.

How do we pay our family contribution?

Just like other expenses, how you and your family choose to cover the family contribution is up to you. Families cover their education expenses through regular income, savings, payment plans, or education loans, or a combination of these resources, as needed.

If you are considering borrowing loans to help finance your family contribution, we encourage you to determine how much you need to borrow, so that you can avoid borrowing more than you really need. For example, if you are able to cover any expenses “out-of-pocket,” such as books or transportation costs, you may be able to borrow a smaller amount, and ultimately pay less in loan fees or interest long-term. If you need assistance, you may contact our office to discuss your budget and determine an amount.

What do we do if we can’t pay our contribution?

If your family finds that they are unable to manage their expected contribution due to changes in their financial circumstances (e.g., job loss, income reduction, etc.), you may want to request a Special Circumstances Review. Feel free to contact our office and speak with a financial aid counselor to discuss your circumstances prior to filing your special circumstances application.

Back to top