Help ... Our EFC is Way Too High!

Question: I receive disability payments but the online EFC calculator tells me that our family 's Expected Contribution is $33,000. This is impossible for us as I have no extra money after paying my bills and no savings. Can speaking to the financial aid office help? My daughter has all A's and good sat scores along with great extracurriculars.

An EFC of $33,000 sounds awfully high for a parent on disability unless there is a second parent with a greater income or your daughter has her own income or assets. I wonder if you made a mistake when you tried the calculator.

Did you know that all colleges are now required to put a "Net Price Calculator" on their Web sites? If you haven't done so already, try these individualized calculators for a couple of the colleges that are on your daughter's current list.

For instance, here's a calculator for Smith College, where I used to work and which offers excellent financial aid for strong students who are willing to consider a single-sex school:

If the figure continues to come out to $33K (or to ANY number that strikes you as absurd), then your daughter's best bet is to apply to colleges where she will be a likely contender for a big merit scholarship. Although some colleges (especially the Ivies and a handful of other highly competitive places like Amherst and Williams) provide only need-based aid, the majority of schools use merit money to entice their most sought-after applicants to enroll.

To find colleges that meet her preferences and profile and where she is a likely candidate for merit aid, your daughter can use College Confidential's SuperMatch: As she completes the SuperMatch questionnaire, she should be on the lookout for the "My Scores" heading and should be sure to check the box under this heading that says, " I'm interested in schools where I would be well above average, to increase my financial aid opportunities." Once she gets her results list, she can take a closer look to see if any of the suggested schools should be added to her list and she can visit their Web sites to get a sense of how much merit money she may be in the running to receive.

As you've suggested, you can also talk to financial aid officers (or write a letter) that explains why a high EFC is well out of reach. But before you do, check it again because I suspect that you made a mistake when you completed the online form.

(posted 4/10/2012)