In respect to financial aid, are there instances were a student puts their EFC and gets a lower EFC by the college. What I'm saying is, do colleges reduce your EFC if they feel it's too high or they typically ask you to contribute your stated EFC regardless of their own estimates?
The FAFSA online form takes all your family's inputs including tax information from the previous tax year and all the assets and figures out an EFC for you. You don't see what the calculation is or what your actual EFC that gets sent to your (up to 10) colleges until you hit the submit button and get a receipt from FAFSA. If FAFSA says your EFC is $3500, then that figure is sent to the colleges on your FAFSA form directly with all the inputs and assumptions. You can't override the FAFSA data and submit your own EFC to colleges because they will only accept it from FAFSA, not the applicant. The CSS works the same way but you don't get a CSS EFC number, you must submit all your financials to the college board and they send your CSS file directly to the colleges you selected as well. Then the college finaid office, determines what they think your family can afford, taking into consideration the FAFSA EFC as well.
If your EFC of $3500 and your CSS profile seems to have the identical or similar input data and both sets of input data are similar to the Financial Aid office, you will most likely get a financial aid package where your parent contribution or your contribution will be some average of the EFC and what the college determines based on the submitted CSS Profile. It's up to their discretion. If your CSS Profile shows that your parents have the ability to contribute more, then that will be reflected in your financial aid package. I don't think it works the opposite where they look at your CSS and say, the parent contribution is 0 because of the CSS Profile.
Again, if you are relying on Financial Aid, then it's very important to apply to perhaps more schools because some schools will be more generous with financial aid versus others. In some cases, you can pit 2 schools against one another after you get your package but you have to be realistic too. If you get into UPenn and UMiami and UPenn says your cost is $20,000 and UMiami says your cost is $10,000, don't expect UPenn to come down $10,000 because of a.) it's a better school b.) there are people dying to go there on the waitlist. But if you get into Princeton and the say your cost is $15,000, you have a better chance of getting UPenn to beat the Princeton package since Princeton is a better school and UPenn.
It's really hard to game the system with the FAFSA and CSS forms. And no one would recommend that anyway because if you or your parents don't fill out the forms correctly you may lose all opportunities to apply for financial aid in the future with that college because you agreed to be forthcoming and honest about your finances and assets.
Good luck with filling out and submitting your forms.