Washington State University

Student Financial Services

How it's done

Often times, Student Financial Services receives questions regarding why students were offered different types and amounts of aid. Truthfully, the awarding process is complicated and dependent on a number of factors. However, Student Financial Services staff understands the need for transparency and this summary should help answer some of these important questions. Please keep in mind that if questions remain, please contact us at your convenience and a counselor will be happy to walk you through the awarding process as well as answer any questions you may have.


To help pay for college, many students and their families start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the first step for students and their families interested in federal and state grants, as well as work-study and low-interest student loans. The FAFSA usually takes about an hour to complete, and takes into account the financial situation for the parents and the student for the previous tax year. Once completed, the FAFSA information is processed by the Department Education, the expected family contribution (EFC) is calculated, and that information is then sent to our office.

At WSU, the awarding process begins with the development of a Cost of Attendance (COA). This number is our office’s best estimate of what it might cost the average student to attend courses as well as to live on their own for one academic year. The Department of Education requires all schools who award federal and state financial aid to develop a standard budget (COA) for students. Student budgets may vary by year in school and program type, though budgets can be adjusted by our office if a student has higher costs than our estimates. Once a budget/COA is established, Student Financial Services can move on to the awarding process. This is where the EFC, an eligibility index number derived from the FAFSA, comes into play.  

This index number, calculated by a federal formula that takes into account all information provided on the FAFSA, is used to determine a student’s eligibility for federal aid. The EFC is also used by states and institutions to determine eligibility of state and institutional funds.  

After cost of attendance (COA) and expected family contribution (EFC) are calculated, Studenet Financial Services takes the difference between these two numbers to determine the maximum amount of “need”-based awards a student can receive. A student’s total need-based award cannot be more than their calculated need (COA – EFC). Need-based awards are those that don’t have to be repaid or are subsidized; examples of need-based awards are grants, subsidized loans and scholarships.

It’s important to note that while a student may have need, we may not be able to meet their entire need based on loan or grant maximums or eligibility criteria. We’ve outlined some examples of need and COA in the following section.


A student with a $20,000 COA and a $20,000 EFC has a need of zero.  This student is not eligible for need-based awards.  This student is still eligible for an unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan, meaning that interest accrues while in school and not Subsidized (government pays interest for borrower while student is attending at least half-time).  

A student with a $20,000 COA and a $10,000 EFC has a need of $10,000.  This student is eligible for no more than $10,000 in need-based awards.  The need-based awards this student receives will depend on the EFC limit of each award program as well as other qualifying criteria that the aid programs may have.  It’s important to note that while this student has need, we may not be able to meet their entire need due to  restrictions and eligibility criteria of loan and grant programs.

A student with a $20,000 COA and a zero EFC has a need of the full COA.  This student is eligible for need-based awards up to the full COA.  Although this student has a need of the full COA, we may not be able to meet their entire need due to restrictions and eligibility criteria of loan and grant programs.



Office Hours:
8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Student Financial Services, Lighty Building Room 380, Washington State University, PO Box 641068, Pullman WA 99164-1068, 509-335-9711.