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Financial Need

Your Financial Need is the Cost of Attendance minus your ability to pay that cost. Your family contribution is an estimate of your ability to pay your costs. The family contribution is calculated based on your family’s financial circumstances, as reported on your financial aid application each year.

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

What costs does financial aid cover?

Financial aid is awarded to supplement your family’s ability to pay for college. Your financial aid will cover the difference between the cost of attendance and your family contribution. Financial aid might include 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 your bill at Northwestern. Your bill will include your tuition, fees, and housing and meals 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. Your family contribution is an estimate of your family's total contribution each quarter or year, and financial aid is provided after your family contribution is first applied. 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 bill, you will have a credit balance, or financial aid refund, which you can use to help with your other expenses.

Will my family contribution be the same every quarter or year?

Your estimated family contribution is the same each quarter of the academic year, including summers.

You will need to apply 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 expect a similar aid package each year.

How do we pay our family contribution?

Families cover their educational costs through income, savings, payment plans, education loans, or a combination of these things.

If you are considering borrowing to replace all or part of your family contribution, we encourage you to borrow wisely and only what you need. For example, if you are able to pay some 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, please contact our office to discuss your budget and determine an amount.

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

If you are unable to manage the expected contribution due to changes in their financial circumstances (e.g., job loss, income reduction, etc.), you might 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.