Not to pile on to your sticker shock OP, but for others reading the thread...
One thing I think is misunderstood with EFC as well is that it doesn't really tell you what is going to make up the gap.
Pell grants apply to poor families, but they don't go up based on the price of the school. The MAXIMUM Pell Grant is around $6k. That's your main need grant. That's the max. If you are an orphan (foster alum), your parent is disabled, and you go to an expensive school, like not CC, you get the max. If your school costs less or your parents have almost any income at all, you're not getting that whole $6k!
Beyond that, in many expensive states, you might get a state need grant, to cover the gap. For example, in Seattle, there are grants to make up the difference at the Seattle community colleges, because the COL is far too high for Pell grants to cover tuition at CC much less the entire cost of attendance.
But even if you have an EFC of $0, you still may end up with student loans. That's because Pell only goes so far, and then other need grants cover some more, but the rest of the cost must be paid with loans and work.
The winning strategy is save and work and save and work. Merit aid can make up the gap. The amount you get in aid is so measly compared to what any able-bodied adult could feasibly save over just 5 years, that it doesn't pay not to save. Even if you have a moderately low income, say $50k, unless your child is Harvard material, you want to save, because Pell just won't make up the gap.
It has been a big deceit to the middle class, to imply that loans are "aid". While helpful, that's not what people are counting on when they choose not to save for college.
Whether your EFC is $20k instead of $26k, or $15k instead of $50k, guess what? You're not getting Pell to finish off the rest. You are getting loans and mayyyybe some grants if it's a private school, and then kids have to wash dishes and nanny and wait tables over the summer.
Unless it affects your family's nutrition and basic needs or education now, you and your kid should save for college. The "aid" at the end of the rainbow is high-interest, horrible terms loans, unless you are in such dire poverty that advice doesn't even apply because you have no choice.
Save, save, save.
Edited by Tsuga, 07 February 2018 - 01:55 AM.