What is the SAR?
About 2 weeks after your FAFSA is accepted, you’ll get an email (or, in some instances, postal mail) letting you know your Student Aid Report (SAR) is ready for review. This is definitely one of the most important milestones in the financial aid process, and you’ll want to dive right in to your freshly minted SAR.
But first, check that the information reported back to you on your SAR is accurate. You can go to your account at FAFSA.ed.gov to fix typos, make changes to your school list and to update your tax information using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
You can also give your schools the unique 4-digit Data Release Number (DRN) found on your SAR to enable them to make certain updates on their end.
What is the EFC?
Next, you’ll want to take a look at your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Calculated using the data you provided — and a federally mandated formula that looks at the parents’ and student’s income and assets among other factors — this figure represents the amount your family is expected to pay toward your student’s college education for the upcoming academic year.
The schools you listed on your FAFSA will take your EFC and subtract it from their Cost of Attendance (COA) to calculate your student’s financial need. (And remember, once your FAFSA has been processed, you can always go back in and change out the schools on your list to be sure they receive your EFC.)
Their COA – Your EFC = Student Financial Need
What is the COA?
The Cost of Attendance (COA) is the average cost for a typical student to attend for one academic year. The COA must include tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation and personal expenses. You can find the total COA on your school’s website, or by calling the financial aid office.
Remember, colleges and universities are not required to meet 100% of your student’s financial need. But many will provide a financial aid package of grants, student loans and work-study that will get you most if not all of the way there. (To learn more, read our article Grants, Scholarship and Work-Study: Know Your Financial Aid.)
You can get an indication of how each school on your list handles aid by looking at their Percentage of Need Met from the previous year’s incoming class. Also, check out this article from U.S. News & World Report to see a list of schools that claim to meet 100% of need.
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