How to Interpret the FAFSA Student Aid Report

Posted by Leader Fellow Will Collins on Nov 12, 2019 11:22:56 AM

After counseling sessions, financial aid nights, mountains of paperwork, and countless follow-ups, your students have *successfully* filed their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Way to go, counselor! What now?

After submitting a FAFSA, a student receives a Student Aid Report (SAR). Let’s talk about why this document is important and how to interpret it.

The Student Aid Report summarizes the information provided on the FAFSA and gives some basic information about a student's eligibility for federal financial aid. If a student's application is complete, an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) will display in the upper right-hand corner. If the application is incomplete, the SAR will not include an EFC, but it will tell the student what they need to do to resolve any issues.

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Key terms to know when looking at the Student Aid Report:

1) Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

This number is an indicator of the family's financial strength. It is sent to the state scholarship agency and colleges listed on the FAFSA. Colleges use this number to determine the student's financial aid award by subtracting the EFC from the total cost of attending their institution for one year.  

2) Verification 

The SAR may contain a note saying the student has been selected for FAFSA verification. This notification may also come from the student’s school of choice. Verification is the process the school uses to confirm that the data reported on the FAFSA is accurate. If selected for verification, the student’s school will request additional documentation to support the information that was reported. It’s important to remind students and families that, if they are selected for verification, it doesn’t mean they are in trouble. 

What’s next? Students should keep the SAR on file, promptly follow up with corrections (if needed), and turn in any requested documents. The movie Jerry Maguire popularized the phrase “Show me the money!” In the college financial aid process, the Student Aid Report plays a key part before colleges can “show students the money,” i.e., their financial aid package. 

Be sure to check out My Big future’s Financial Aid 101. It breaks down each part of the FAFSA process, including what happens after the FAFSA is completed. For even more information on advising students on the FAFSA, log onto the Texas OnCourse Academy and look under Financial Aid > Financial Aid Application Process > Module 1 (FAFSA).

Helping students on the road to college readiness is rewarding – don’t let financial circumstances limit their opportunities. 

Topics: Applying to College, Finances, Educators