What is my FAFSA Student Aid Report and EFC?

student aid report

You’re almost there. You’ve submitted college applications and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Now you’re waiting to hear from admissions committees, thinking about graduation, and starting to make plans for your last summer before college. In the meantime, you receive the FAFSA Student Aid Report (SAR), and it lists the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). But what is this report, and what do the figures really mean? Don’t worry; NerdScholar’s here to help.

[Need help with your FAFSA? Check out our FAFSA Community.]


What is the Student Air Report (SAR)?

The SAR is the document that lists your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and Data Release Number (DNR). It also includes your answers to questions on the FAFSA. If your FAFSA was incomplete, you won’t receive an EFC; instead, you’ll get instructions on how to resolve any remaining issues with your application.

How do I access my SAR?

It depends on how you submitted the FAFSA. If you have a Federal Student Aid PIN, you can view your SAR as soon as your FAFSA is processed. Just log in at FAFSA on the Web. If you submitted a paper version of the FAFSA, you’ll receive an email with instructions for viewing your SAR online. If you didn’t provide an email address, then look for an SAR Acknowledgement in the mail.

What should I do with my SAR?

Review it carefully and make sure all the information you provided is correct. That information determines your EFC and your eligibility for federal student aid, so it’s crucial that it’s accurate and up-to-date.

What if the information on my SAR is incorrect?

If you made a mistake like providing the wrong Social Security Number, then you’ll probably have to submit a new FAFSA altogether. For other details such as your mailing address, school codes, and so on, you can log in with your FAFSA PIN and update that information. But if your financial situation has changed — perhaps your parents’ income this year will be substantially less than last year — then you’ll need to talk to the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend. You can’t update that information on the FAFSA, but it’s critical to determining your financial aid package.

What does my Expected Family Contribution (EFC) mean?

Your EFC is the figure that college financial aid officers use to calculate how much aid you would receive if you attended their school. It doesn’t represent the amount of money that you or your parents will have to pay for college, and it isn’t the amount of money you’ll receive in federal student aid.

How do they calculate my EFC, and how does it affect what I’ll pay for school?

EFC is calculated according to a formula established by law (specifically, Part F of Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965). It affects what you and your family will pay for school because financial aid staff use it to calculate the amount of aid you’re eligible receive. They take the cost of attendance at the school (tuition, room, board, etc.) and subtract your EFC. What’s left represents the need-based aid that you’re eligible for. Let’s say, for example, that the cost of attendance at NerdScholar U. is $5,000. If your EFC is $1,000, then you qualify for $4,000 of need-based aid if you meet all the eligibility requirements.

What’s the difference between need-based aid and non-need-based aid?

Need-based aid programs include Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, Federal Work Study, Federal Perkins Loan, and Direct Subsidized Loan. But you may not qualify for all of them or they may not be enough to close the gap between your EFC and the cost of attendance. Imagine, for instance, that NerdScholar U. costs $40,000/year. Your EFC is $10,000, which means your need-based aid is $30,000/year. You qualify for $10,000 of Direct Subsidized loans, and you also win $10,000 in scholarships that you found through NerdScholar’s scholarship search. But there’s still $10,000 unaccounted for. That $10,000 represents the non-need-based aid you qualify for. Non-need-based aid sources include federal programs like Direct Unsubsidized Loan and Federal PLUS loan.

College campus photo via Shutterstock.