Completing the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is seen as the first big step in the college financial aid process. This is the point where students and their parents provide financial information to the Department of Education. Your information then serves as the basis for a number of financial aid decisions from the federal and state governments, as well as the various colleges to which the student has applied.
The second event that will occur is that you will receive a Student Aid Report, or SAR, either electronically or through the mail. If you have an FSA ID (username and password) and your FAFSA information has been processed, you can also log in any time at fafsa.gov or use the myStudentAid app to view your SAR.
This document provides a summary of the information that was entered into the FAFSA. It is important to review your SAR to make sure you input all of your information correctly, as the information will be provided to the colleges you listed on your FAFSA. The SAR will also give you the first insights into the amount of federal financial aid for which you might qualify. Here’s what your next steps should be after receiving the SAR:
• Make Corrections: You can make certain corrections on the SAR itself or online at fafsa.gov. This might apply to such items as using the wrong Social Security Number, or needing to update your contact information. Tax return information that you transferred to your FAFSA using the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) cannot be changed on the online FAFSA form. If you filed an amended return, you may need to contact the school’s financial aid office to discuss whether it would be appropriate for them to adjust the information on your FAFSA form.
• Look for the Expected Family Contribution (EFC): This amount is shown in the upper right-hand corner of your SAR. If your application is incomplete, your SAR will not include an EFC, but it will tell you what you need to do to resolve any issues. It is as estimate of the amount your family will be expected to contribute to the cost of your college education, not a final amount. There are many other factors yet to be considered, but it is a good starting point.
• Be Aware of Your Data Release Number (DRN): This four-digit number will be needed if you choose to allow a college or career school to change certain information on your FAFSA form.
• Watch for Verification Requests: Your SAR might also contain a note indicating that you’ve been selected for verification. This request could also come directly from one of your colleges. Verification usually means that additional documentation is required, but you need to respond to requests as quickly as possible to keep the approval process moving.
• Loan Summary: For current college students, the SAR will provide an update on the current level of your federal student loan borrowing. Keep this in mind as you make decisions about how much money to borrow moving forward. You want to try not to get yourself too deep into debt.
• Pell Grant: You will also be notified of your federal Pell Grant This grant amount can change yearly, and is based on your EFC, cost of attendance, and your full- or part-time student status.
Information must be accurate as of the day you sign the FAFSA. You cannot adjust for items such as changes in income or life circumstances. If something occurred which could impact your ability to fully pay your portion of college expenses, you need to speak to the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend. Be prepared to provide documentation regarding your change in status.
Each college then notifies you of their financial aid decision. Don’t get too caught up in the EFC amount, as you might end up paying more or less than what is listed. The federal government uses a formula to calculate the EFC, but not all colleges use that same methodology. You still have many options to alter your actual out-of-pocket costs.