Navigating College with a $0 EFC: A Unique Journey

Mother and son sitting together looking at a computer screen while the son types on a keyboard

Navigating College with a $0 EFC: A Unique Journey

Published November 10, 2023 | Last Updated December 19th, 2023 at 11:31 am

Mother and son sitting together looking at a computer screen while the son types on a keyboard

Editor’s Note: This story was first published in our Paying for College 101 Facebook community; the author has chosen to remain anonymous. It’s been edited for clarity and flow. Also, note that this article applies to the 2023-24 FAFSA and earlier, which used Expected Family Contribution. The 2024-25 FAFSA replaces EFC with the Student Aid Index.

When it comes to paying for college, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, especially for first-generation students with a $0 Expected Family Contribution (EFC). In our Paying for College 101 Facebook group, one member shared their extraordinary journey of guiding their son through higher education. Despite facing challenges like homeschooling and disabilities, this family took a unique path that eventually led to their son pursuing a master’s degree at a competency-based school.

From Homeschooling to Dual Enrollment

Our journey began with a pivotal conversation I had with my son. We discussed the financial realities of college and the fact that loans were not an option for our family. However, we discovered a glimmer of hope in our state’s dual enrollment options. If my son could pass the required tests, he could earn an associate’s degree and kickstart his career right after high school.

The Road to an Associate’s Degree and Beyond

This exciting chapter of our journey involved a deep exploration of my son’s interests and the course offerings at our local community college. We factored in the cost of living, future career prospects, and, most importantly, my son’s passions. Our goal was to find a major that aligned with his interests and offered the potential for a decent income. Ultimately, we decided on web development as the perfect fit.

Maximizing Scholarships and Embracing Unconventional Choices

As my son progressed through his community college journey, he continued to explore various interests, including art, while staying actively engaged in our homeschooling community. He also prepared for standardized tests and secured a Bright Futures scholarship by earning a 1300 on the SAT.

When it came time to transfer to a four-year institution, we diligently examined the financial aid packages offered by local schools. By aligning my son’s preferred major with his excitement for specific courses, we narrowed down our options. This strategic approach led to a business minor and a path to a state university.

Throughout our journey, my family and I made choices that defied convention, always aiming to optimize my son’s education and minimize debt. Eventually, we found a competency-based master’s degree program that suited my son’s aspirations.


Our remarkable college journey demonstrates the power of determination, creativity, and a commitment to finding the right path for higher education, even when facing financial challenges and educational struggles. By carefully considering my son’s interests, seeking scholarships, and embracing unconventional choices, we successfully navigated the complexities of paying for college, proving that with dedication, anyone can achieve their educational goals.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

10 Reasons Why We Should Stop Pressuring Teens to Have It All Figured Out

How My Neurodiverse Student Got Into Graduate School

I Watched My Average Student Get Into College, Against All Odds




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