Financial Aid Terms You Should Know

Senior Vice President for Enrollment Services, Union University

You will see or hear a variety of acronyms and terms throughout the financial aid process. Here are a handful of the need-to-know terms. 

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

This is the basic form you will need to fill out for federal and, in some cases, state financial aid. Generally speaking, the best time to fill out the FAFSA is ASAP after October 1, the year before you intend to enroll (or continue) in college. Many colleges require you submit it no later than a separate date; check with your schools to confirm their financial aid deadlines. The FAFSA can be found at

COA (cost of attendance)

This is what the institution believes it costs a student to attend their institution. It includes tuition, required fees, room and board (for residential students), books, and other education-related expenses (travel, technology, etc.).

EFC (expected family contribution)

This is the amount the federal government believes you and your family can contribute to your education on an annual basis, based on your FAFSA results.

Financial need

Some schools refer to this as “unmet need,” but the idea is the same. The EFC is subtracted from the COA, and the number that is left represents the financial need of the student. Financial aid offices then try to meet the need through available sources of grant, loans, and/or work-study.

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