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Of the millions of high school students who didn’t complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in 2018, nearly one-third said they didn’t fill it out because they didn’t have enough information or they thought it was too time-consuming.
But skipping the FAFSA means you’ll miss out on financial aid, including grants, scholarships and federal student loans. If the FAFSA process seems overwhelming, spending some time understanding how to submit the FAFSA and what happens after you complete it can make it much easier.
A key part of the financial aid process is the Student Aid Report (SAR), a form you receive after submitting your FAFSA. Here’s what you need to know about the SAR and how it impacts your financial aid awards.
What Is Your Student Aid Report?
After completing the FAFSA, The U.S. Department of Education will send you your SAR. It’s a form that acknowledges the receipt of your FAFSA and provides basic information about your eligibility for federal student aid. It lists the answers that you submitted on the FAFSA and provides space for you to make corrections if needed.
When You’ll Receive Your SAR
When you receive your SAR depends on when you submit your FAFSA. In most cases, you’ll receive your SAR within two weeks of filing your FAFSA.
The SAR can be sent to you through the mail. If you included an email address on the FAFSA, it will be sent electronically. You also can view your SAR by logging into your account with your Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID on FAFSA.gov.
Breaking Down Your Student Aid Report
Once you receive the SAR, review it carefully. Schools use the information on the SAR to determine your eligibility for grants, scholarships and student loans, so make sure everything on the SAR is accurate.
Your SAR includes the following information:
- Application status. The SAR will state whether your FAFSA application is complete or additional information is needed.
- Expected family contribution. Your expected family contribution (EFC) is what your college uses to determine your aid based on the financial information you submitted. The number is subtracted from the school’s cost of attendance, and the school may offer you scholarships, grants or federal student loans to cover the remainder.
- Data release number. A four-digit number, you need the DRN if you want to allow a college to edit information, such as your mailing address or phone number, on your FAFSA.
- Pell Grant eligibility. The SAR will state whether you are eligible for a Pell Grant. Designed for low-income students, the maximum Pell Grant award for the 2020-2021 school year is $6,345.
- Answers submitted. Your SAR will include all of the answers you provided on the FAFSA. Double-check the answers to ensure there are no mistakes.
- Outstanding federal loans. If you’ve taken out federal student loans to pay for some of your education, the SAR will list all outstanding loans under your name. For more information about your federal loans, including the interest rate, look up your loans in the National Student Loan Data System.
- Verification. The SAR will note if you’ve been selected for verification. If that’s the case, you might need to submit additional documentation to support the information you provided on the FAFSA, such as bank statements.
The SAR is different from a financial aid award letter. The SAR simply details the information that you submitted and your eligibility for aid; the award letter lists what financial aid each school offers you, including specific scholarships or federal loans. The financial aid award letter typically comes after the SAR when schools begin accepting incoming students.
How to Correct Your SAR
If you find that you made mistakes on the SAR, such as entering the wrong school names or checking a box by mistake, you’ll have to correct or update your FAFSA.
You can update your FAFSA online in just a few steps:
- Log onto FAFSA.gov and sign in with your FSA ID
- On the “My FAFSA” homepage, click on “FAFSA Corrections”
- Create a save key to protect your information
- Make the necessary updates and submit
Write in the corrections on your SAR and mail it to the address listed on the SAR. After that, contact the financial aid offices of each school you applied to about your changes, too. They may be able to update some of the FAFSA data for you electronically.
If your financial situation has changed since you submitted your FAFSA and you can’t update it or the SAR to reflect those changes, reach out to the schools’ financial aid offices. In some cases, you can appeal your financial aid award and get additional assistance.
What to Do if You Need Additional Aid
After receiving your SAR and college offer letter, you might find that the financial aid you received isn’t enough to cover the full cost of your college education. If that’s the case, use the following options to pay for the remaining expenses:
- Look for scholarships and grants. Unlike student loans, which have to be repaid with interest, scholarships and grants are free aid. Scholarships are typically awarded based on merit, while grants are usually distributed on the basis of financial need. You can research available opportunities on sites like Unigo and Niche.com.
- Work part-time. If possible, consider taking on a part-time job. You can work on campus or off and use your earnings to pay for a portion of your school tuition and fees.
- Consider parent PLUS loans. If your parents are willing to help you pay for school, they can borrow up to the total cost of attendance with federal parent PLUS loans. Parent PLUS loans have a separate application they can complete online.
- Apply for private student loans. If you have used up all your federal, state and school financial aid and still need money for college, consider taking out private student loans. While they tend to have higher interest rates and stricter terms than federal loans, you can borrow up to your program’s total cost of attendance.