Mar 3, 2010

Review Your FAFSA Student Aid Report—Now

If you completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at any point since the first of the year, you will receive a Student Aid Report or SAR. This document contains very important information about your eligibility for financial aid, including

• a summary of all the information you provided when you completed the FAFSA form,
• notification if you have been randomly selected for verification, and most importantly,
• your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) which colleges will eventually use to formulate your financial aid package.

If you submitted your FAFSA online and signed it with a PIN, you should receive your SAR electronically within a week, but note that you will not be able to access your SAR until your PIN information has been verified by the Social Security Administration (usually 1 to 3 days after applying). The SAR process can take up to four weeks if you mailed the paper version of the FAFSA.

Once you receive your SAR, review it carefully. Provide additional information, if requested. If you find errors or if you completed your FAFSA based on last year’s tax information, follow the directions to submit a correction. Be aware that you cannot update income or asset information to reflect changes to your family’s financial situation if those changes took place after the FAFSA was filed. You’ll have to sort that out later with the individual colleges to which you applied.

If you do not receive your SAR within the time period suggested, check the status of your application by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (433-3243).

Once you are satisfied that the SAR is correct, you can use the EFC—the amount of education expenses the federal government expects you to pay—to generate broad estimates of your need for financial aid at various colleges to which you applied. First locate the EFC at the upper right front page of the SAR. Next find the total Cost of Attendance (COA) listed on college websites (not always so easy). This number should include everything from tuition and fees to travel expenses for out-of-state students.

For example, the COA at George Mason University for an in-state student living in residence halls is $19,934—it’s clearly posted and easy to understand. At Georgetown, the COA for freshmen is $55,130. But keep in mind that these numbers are likely to change slightly as colleges determine next year’s tuition rates.

Using the COA, you can get an idea of your level of need prior to receiving full financial aid packages. Simply subtract the EFC from the COA, and bingo—you have how much additional money the feds think you will need to attend that college.

Of course, it’s never going to be that simple and it’s doubtful that any financial aid package will look exactly as you envisioned. And if you were required to submit the CSS PROFILE, the picture may be even more complicated.

Nevertheless, it’s worth the time to review your SAR, note the EFC, and compare it to the COA’s of schools you are considering. Then once financial aid packages arrive in your mailbox, you will be in a better position to analyze numbers and compare offers.

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