College Education and Cost of Attendance (COA) 101

In seeking financial assistance for attending college, you would discover a number of options.  For example, there are grants provided by the federal government, a multitude of scholarships, several student loans, private loans, work study programs, personal and/or family money, and more.  The type and amount of financial assistance needed would be based on what is referred to as a COA or Cost of Attendance.  The COA is an estimate of what it would cost for you to attend college.  However, it is important to understand that this estimate is typically not the exact amount actually paid.

To complete the process of determining the Cost of Attendance, numerous college expenses are included such as tuition, textbooks, room, board, transportation/parking, and even personal expenses as well as a small amount for entertainment.  Keep in mind that when the COA is calculated, the numbers are unique to each student.  Because different colleges/universities, areas of study, expenses for dependent care, and purchases of equipment or supplies needed for college vary from one student to another, the estimate for the Cost of Attendance would be unique.

For the Cost of Attendance to be completed, an assessment would be completed by the federal government and college or university you plan to attend regarding financial position.  Using an EFC, the acronym for Expected Family Contribution, you and your family would be evaluated on income, assets, and other financial benefits.  Other factors assessed would include the number of people in your family attending college at the same time.  Using a specific formula a dollar amount would be identified regarding the amount of money you would need to pay but just as with the COA, this is only an estimate.

Then, after you apply for student aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the EFC information would be added to a special report you would receive called the Student Aid Report or SAR.  While this might sound a little complicated, the easiest way to remember how the COA works regarding funding for college is that the Expected Family Contribution dollar amount would be deducted from the Cost of Attendance, which ultimately would give you the amount needed in the form of financial aid for college.  In simple terms, the EFC minus the COA equals the amount of money needed to attend college.

When going through the process of determining the Cost of Attendance or COA for college, different dollar amounts would be used for being in the same district as the college or university, being out of district, and being out of state.  Then, for each of these scenarios, money would be calculated for the various expenses as mentioned such as tuition, books, living allowance, transportation/parking, personal expenses, and even fees associated with student loans.

Keep in mind that when going through all the steps connected to a COA, you would have assistance from the financial aid office for the college or university of interest.  This office would provide all the necessary forms, offer guidance, answer questions, and help you in any way possible to ensure all the required forms are completed correctly but also submitted on time and to the appropriate resources.

If planning to go to college and you realize that beyond personal money from you and your family that additional financial aid would be needed, we suggest you get started as early as possible in getting the EFC and COA completed.  The reason is that grant and scholarship money depletes the more students apply so starting early improves your chances of getting the money needed to pursue your dream of earning a college degree.

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