The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) collects demographic, income, and asset information from student applicants and their families. This information is used to calculate a student’s eligibility to receive any financial aid for college expenses based on the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC is calculated according to a formula that is established by the federal government and is a measure of a family’s financial strength. Schools consider the EFC as one of several factors to determine the amount, if any, a student may be awarded for that school year. Simply put, students are eligible to receive need-based student aid if the sum of their EFC and other estimated financial assistance is less than the total cost of attendance.
According to the US Department of Agriculture's most recent annual estimate, it will cost a middle-income family $233,610 to raise a child to age 18, ignoring college and inflation. This is a staggeringly high number, but the cost to raise a child with special needs can exceed that number by 5 or 10 times, depending on the child's condition.