Columbia Financial Aid and Educational Financing

Determining Need

Home / How Aid Works / Determining Need / Determining Need

In order to determine financial aid eligibility, we first calculate an Expected Family Contribution - the amount a family is expected to pay towards educational costs for the academic year. We evaluate each family’s ability to pay based on the information they provide us in their financial aid application. Our office conducts a thorough review of each applicant’s financial information every year, and there are many factors taken into consideration when determining the family contribution.

Factors We Consider

Click each box to learn more.

  • Total Income

    We calculate a family’s total income by adding all sources of income, including any untaxed income (i.e., tax-deferred pension contributions, social security benefits, child support received, tax exempt interest). In cases of divorced or separated families, the incomes from both parents are considered to determine the total family income.

  • Assets

    When determining the parent contribution, we take into consideration the parents’ assets which include cash, savings, investments, home equity, other real estate equity, and business equity. Retirement assets are excluded from Columbia’s analysis. 

  • Household Size/Expenses

    This includes the financial aid applicant, parents, and other individuals currently residing in the primary home, or for whom the parents provide more than half of their financial support.

  • Number in College

    We include any siblings currently enrolled in an undergraduate program who are pursuing their first degree. We do not include siblings enrolled in graduate or professional school or parents in this number. Please note that the type of school siblings are enrolled in (for example:  four-year private, four-year public, two-year public) will impact a student’s financial aid eligiblity.

  • Special Circumstances

    We recognize that many families have circumstances that are not adequately conveyed through the standard financial aid application.  Families who would like us to consider additional information should document it in the Special Circumstances section at the end of the CSS Profile, or submit a letter of explanation directly to our office at the time of application.

Expected Family Contribution

This is a combination of the Student and Parent Contributions and reflects an approximate amount the family will contribute toward the cost of attending Columbia.

Family’s Financial Need

After the Expected Family Contribution is calculated, that amount is subtracted from Columbia’s standard Cost of Attendance to determine the family’s need.

Cost of AttendanceExpected Family Contribution = Family’s Financial Need

A family has financial need if the Expected Family Contribution is less than the Cost of Attendance. Columbia meets 100% of the demonstrated financial need for all students admitted as first-years and transfers pursuing their first degree, including international students, for all four years (Combined Plan applicants, please see Combined Plan information). We meet a family’s need with a combination of federal, state and institutional grants and a student work expectation.  Use our Award Letter Guide to see a sample Columbia financial aid award.