Parents could see what happens to their EFC if they save more in a 529 plan or if they deposit money into their child's savings account. They can also see what will happen to their expected family contribution if one parent receives a raise at work, says a spokeswoman for the Department of Education.
But a student's total financial aid package isn't just dependent on need.
[Know what to ask about your financial aid package.]
"The expected family contribution as calculated from the FAFSA data is used to award need-based financial aid," says Jim Brooks, financial aid director for the University of Oregon. "However, merit-based aid is typically awarded based on academic performance alone."
With college costs rising, families looking for ways to pay for college should explore all of their options.
"Understanding your EFC is the cornerstone of creating a college funding strategy, but only one piece of the puzzle," Amrein says.
Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.