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Articles / Applying to College / EFC Calculation for Non-Custodial Parent

July 23, 2008

EFC Calculation for Non-Custodial Parent

Question: My daughter is a 10th grader who will eventually apply to colleges that use the CSS profile. Her mother and I are divorced, and I will be required to fill out the non-custodial parent form as part of the college admissions process. Thus, I'm trying to figure out how I will be able to determine or estimate the amount of my EFC as the non-custodial parent so that I can start preparing for my obligation instead of waiting for the student aid report. How is the EFC calculated for the non-custodial parent using CSS profile? Is it done in two parts ... one EFC for the custodial parent and one EFC for the non-custodial parent?

As one financial aid expert has put it, "Colleges don't like to be social workers." What that means for you is that they will compute your daughter's EFC based on a bunch of potentially complicated factors (more on that in a minute) and then give you the bottom line--a total. You and your ex must then duke it out to determine who pays what. In other words, there's nothing that says, "This is Dad's official share, and this is Mom's."


When a college uses the CSS Profile and makes financial aid determinations for children of divorced or legally separated parents, there are a number of complex issues that are evaluated, and each college has its own way of looking at the data. For instance, admission folks will consider whether the custodial parent is remarried and, if so, the stepparent's income will go into the mix. They may look at things like how long you've been divorced, if you have been negligent with child support, what your assets are (some colleges include home equity; others don't; many will "cap" the amount of equity they consider, if your home is worth a lot), whether or not you have other children, etc.

Thus, you can play with an online EFC calculator and you can plug in both your ex-wife's income and your own under "Adjusted Gross Income" to get a very rough sense of what the family total will be. (Be sure to use the "Institutional Methodology" calculation, not the Federal.) However, the real bottom line could end up being substantially different, due to some of the issues named above or other similar ones.

One common scenario is this: if your wife is remarried to a spouse who makes more money that you do, this will raise the EFC. However, if the stepparent won't be contributing to your daughter's college costs, then you and your wife will still have to shoulder that extra burden. The two of you will need to work out a figure for each to pay that you both deem to be fair. Obviously, for many split families--who can't agree on what movies Junior is allowed to see on a Saturday night or on when he is old enough to get a tattoo (I vote for 50 :-))--this can be a hot-button question.

On the other hand, for some parents, it's pretty straightforward--they either divide the payments in half or pro-rate them based on income.

Since your daughter is just a sophomore, she may have no idea yet where she plans to attend college, but if there are already a couple front-runner schools, you should feel free to make phone appointment with financial aid officers to get at least a ballpark sense of where you may stand and how that particular school makes its aid decisions. Ultimately, this may even help your daughter make her decision, too.

Best wishes as you travel through this maze.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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