Calculating Eligibility

Once I complete the FAFSA, who decides how much money I get?

Here’s the short answer:

Your eligibility depends on your Expected Family Contribution, your year in school, your enrollment status, and the cost of attendance at the school you will be attending. The Office of Financial Aid determines how much financial aid you are eligible to receive based on this number. Click the on the links below for more in-depth information.


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What is a Cost of Attendance (COA)?

What is an Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?

What is need-based aid and who determines how much I get?

What is non-need-based aid and who determines how much I get?

What is a Cost of Attendance (COA)?

If you're attending at least half-time, your COA is the estimate of

    • tuition and fees;
    • the cost of room and board (or living expenses for students who do not contract with the school for room and board); 
    • the cost of books, supplies, transportation, loan fees, and miscellaneous educationally related expenses (such as a personal computer)

The Cost of Attendance or cost of education and is unique to each school to which you apply and is determined by each individual college or university. This is one reason you may be eligible for more financial aid at one school than another; it may cost more to attend the other school. The cost of attendance at Millersville University is based upon research done by University staff and students who review the costs annually to ensure they are realistic.

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What is an Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?

Your EFC is not the amount of money your family will have to pay for college, nor is it the amount of federal student aid you will receive. It is a number calculated by the FAFSA and used by your school to calculate how much financial aid you are eligible to receive. The EFC number is based on the information you report on the FAFSA and is calculated according to a formula established by law.

Your family's taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security) all could be considered in the formula. Also considered are your family size and the number of family members who will attend college or career school during the year. The EFC Formula guide shows exactly how an EFC is calculated.

One common misconception people have about the EFC is that it is the amount of the outstanding balance to be paid to the university for the year.  It is only used to determine amounts of eligibility for need-based and non-need-based financial aid programs.  It is NOT the amount you will pay the university for the year.  The outstanding balance of your bill and the EFC will likely differ. You will be responsible for the outstanding balance.

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What is need-based aid and who determines how much I get?

Need-based aid is financial aid that you can receive if you have financial need and meet other eligibility criteria. You can’t receive more need-based aid than the amount of your financial need. For instance, if your COA is $16,000 and your EFC is 12000, your financial need is $4,000; so you aren’t eligible for more than $4,000 in need-based aid.

The following are the need-based federal student aid programs:

    • Federal Pell Grant
    • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
    • Direct Subsidized Loan
    • Federal Work-Study

Other types of need-based programs:

    • PHEAA State Grant
    • Scholarships 

To determine your financial need, your expected family contribution is subtracted from the cost of attendance.

   Cost of Attendance
-  Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
= Financial Need


Example: Joe Student is a Pennsylvania Resident who is entering his freshman year of college at Millersville University. He plans to live on-campus in the residence halls. Joe filed his FAFSA using his and his parents’ information since he is a dependent student. When he received his Student Aid Report (SAR) after completing the FAFSA, the EFC was listed at $5,342. We determine his financial need by the following figures:

Cost of Attendance (In-State, Undergrad, Dorm Student)      $28,867
-  Expected Family Contribution (EFC)  -    $5,342
= Financial Need  = $23,525

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What is non-need-based aid and who determines how much I get?

Non-need-based aid is financial aid that is not based on your EFC. What matters is your COA and how much other assistance you’ve been awarded so far. For instance, if your COA is $16,000 and you’ve been awarded a total of $4,000 in need-based aid and private scholarships, you can get up to $12,000 in non-need-based aid.

The following are the non-need-based federal student aid programs:

    • Direct Unsubsidized Loan
    • Federal PLUS Loan

Other types of non-need-based aid programs

    • Private/Alternative Student Loans
    • Private/Alternative Parent Loans

To determine how much non-need-based aid you can receive use the following formula: 

   Cost of Attendance
-  All Other Financial Aid Awarded So Far*
= Remaining Eligibility for Non-need-based Aid


Example: Joe Student is a Pennsylvania Resident who is entering his freshman year of college at Millersville University. He plans to live on-campus in the residence halls. Joe filed his FAFSA using his and his parents’ information since he is a dependent student. When he received his Student Aid Report (SAR) after completing the FAFSA, the EFC was listed at $0 and Joe was offered combined federal aid of $11,315 and an outside scholarship for $1,000. We determine his remaining eligibility for non-need-based aid by the following figures:

Cost of Attendance (In-State, Undergrad, Dorm Student) 

     $28,867
-  Federal Pell Grant                               -   $5,815
-  Federal Direct Subsidized Loan    -   $3,500
-  Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan  -   $2,000
-  Outside Scholarship  -   $1,000
Remaining Eligibility to apply for Non-need-based Aid =  $16,252

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