What Do You Receive After You Submit the FAFSA? (and What to Do with It)

Understanding your Student Aid Report (SAR) and the FAFSA

Photo courtesy of Kxan.

The crucial part of applying to college is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) if you're from the United States. It’s your ticket to college in the sense that it will provide you with the financial aid resources that you need from the federal government and also determine your eligibility for any grants and even certain scholarships from your Institution. But, what happens after you apply and submit the FAFSA?

If you submitted your FAFSA online, it will be processed within 2 to 3 days. If you submitted a paper FAFSA form, your application will be processed within seven to ten days. Once your application is processed, you will receive a copy of your Student Aid Report (SAR), which summarizes the information you provided on your FAFSA. 

Before delving further into the process of how the SAR works, Grantford will review how the FAFSA is filed and any other information regarding the FAFSA process.

Each person has a different result from the FAFSA which is determined by your parents or  legal guardians financial status. Before filing the FAFSA you need to file a tax return for the year prior if you haven't done that already or have the paperwork handy. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

What is the FAFSA? 

To apply for the FAFSA, your parents or guardians have to submit their tax paperwork. Understanding taxes is only the beginning of the financial aid process. It's crucial to fill out this form so you can discover your eligibility for aid. Filling out the FAFSA is free for all, and once you get the hang of it, it's really simple to figure out. The first time you do it is always the hardest, so that’s why we’re here to assist in any way possible to smooth out the process. 

When you go to the Department of Education’s website, they offer you a step by step guide to filling out the FAFSA form. The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal grants, work-study, and loans, and sends that info to the colleges of your choice.

After you receive your financial aid offer, you will be able to review it and, if necessary, adjust it. Each college will give you a different offer, so try to compare them to see which one is the best fit for you. Also, think about how your offer may change throughout the four years you attend. Once you've narrowed down your decision you'll inform them before the deadline, accepting the offer. 

Something that people don't talk about often is that every single year you have to refile your FAFSA because your financial status changes. So you could end up getting more financial aid one year or less the year after that. It really just depends on your personal financial situation. A good way to ensure that you will still be able to afford your college tuition is to make sure you can stack up on scholarships to ensure that you will still be able to afford your college tuition is to make sure you can stack up on scholarships that are separate from your federal financial aid package. 

Finding additional scholarships and grants

If you’re looking to find scholarships, or ways of achieving your college degree for free, look at scholarship search engines online. Grantford recommends searching via the State Department of Education, our Go Financial Aid Facebook and Twitter pages, and free scholarship search engines like Niche, fastweb, College Board, Scholly, and CollegeScholarships.org. If you’re still looking to make a college decision, check out college selection search engines such as US News and Cappex.

The Student Aid Report (SAR) is a paper or electronic document that gives you some basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid and lists your answers to the questions on your FAFSA. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

What is in the Student Aid Report? 

Your SAR will include your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC determines your eligibility for a Federal Pell Grant, and colleges use the EFC to assess your eligibility for other federal and nonfederal student aid. After you submit the FAFSA, they send you a SAR.

Your EFC is an index number used to determine your eligibility for federal student financial aid. This number results from the financial information you provide in your FAFSA. It's reported to you on your SAR.

The EFC depends on a formula established by law and considers your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security). Schools use the EFC to determine your federal aid eligibility and financial aid award. If your EFC is zero, then you are eligible for the best financial aid package available.

Your EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law and considers your family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security). Schools use the EFC to determine your federal aid eligibility and financial aid award each year. You can calculate your predicted EFC on the College Board website.

If they have a valid e-mail address on file for you, the Department of Education will send you an email within 3 to 5 days with instructions on how to access an online copy of your SAR.

If the e-mailed link for your SAR does not work, try this:

  • Copy the full URL link from the email they sent you
  • Paste it into the address or location line of your Web browser
  • Hit Enter.
  • TIP: Make sure you copy and paste the entire link; this may display as multiple lines in your email. 

Once your FAFSA form is processed, your SAR is sent to the colleges that you listed on your FAFSA form. The colleges you listed are responsible for creating your award package and disbursing your financial aid. However, listing a college on your FAFSA form is generally not sufficient to receive aid at that college, as most colleges do not create award packages for every applicant who lists the college on a FAFSA form. 

You should contact the financial aid office at the college you plan to attend to find out if there are additional requirements for receiving financial aid and to learn more about the process of applying for aid at that college. If there is any missing or incorrect information, you should complete or correct your FAFSA form as soon as possible.

What happens if my FAFSA needs to be revised?

If your FAFSA is incomplete, you need to make corrections to your FAFSA by logging in on the homepage of fafsa.gov using your FSA ID. Then you’ll click ‘Make FAFSA Corrections,’ and add or correct the information that caused your FAFSA to be incomplete. After you submit your corrections, you’ll add or change the information on your SAR, sign it, and mail it to the provided address. 

What happens once your FAFSA is completed?

The EFC that displays on your SAR is a calculation based on the information that you reported on your FAFSA. The colleges you’ve applied to use the EFC to determine the amount of federal grants, work-study, and loans that you might be eligible for. After their calculations, and once you're accepted, the college will send you a financial aid offer that details the financial aid you are eligible to receive based on their available funds and federal aid.

It's always a good idea to ask a mentor, teacher or guidance counselor for advice when applying for college. If you haven't met with them recently make an appointment or simply reach out. Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Need more advice? 

Aren’t eligible for as much aid as you thought, or looking for free cash? The best bet you have of getting a scholarship is to go local. Think of your marching band, local rotary club, non-profit organizations, and so on. If you’re still unable to find any scholarships, go to your high school’s guidance office for tips, too.

Going through college applications, alongside figuring out your financial aid status can be a confusing and difficult process. Grantford's team hopes to provide students in both undergrad and graduate programs with resources to even the playing field. 

Check out Grantford’s Recycled Essay Scholarship, our guides specifically aimed toward Black women pursuing higher education, as well as our article for graduate student scholarships. Grantford keeps students up to date with other financial aid, scholarship, and student loan advice – You can meet with us or view our various categories of resources, or read our blog. For annual updates, subscribe to our financial aid advice newsletter.

Liz Anastasiadis
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