Understanding the Student Aid Report (SAR)

By on February 27, 2014

It’s almost spring, you have submitted your college applications and applied for student loans, now comes the waiting game. For the next few months you will be checking the mail, anxiously awaiting acceptance letters. In the meantime, you will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) from U.S. Department of Education.

Using the information you supplied on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the SAR will provide you with a breakdown of your financial aid situation. If you have never seen one of these reports before, you may find the pages of acronyms, numbers and codes a bit mystifying and confusing.

Here is a short guide to help you and your family make sense of the numbers and correct any information, ensuring you receive the best financing options for your financial need.

Quick Read Your Student Aid Report (SAR)

First off, it can be It can be extremely difficult to read the codes and numbers you might find on your SAR. Take a quick scan your SAR. From the top to the bottom, these are some of the important items to take note of:

  • Expected Family Contribution (EFC): Just underneath the date near the top right of your SAR, this number is the amount of money federal calculators determine your family is able to contribute toward your college expenses. This is not necessarily the amount you will have to pay.
  • Eligibility: Next to the EFC there may be a ‘C’ code which notifies financial aid administrators there is an eligibility issue has been identified.
  • Verification: If there is an asterisk (*) next to the EFC (or ‘C’ code), it means that your SAR has been randomly chosen for verification. You will find further directions and documents included with your SAR.
  • Data Release Number (DRN): In the lower left-hand corner (upper-right corner of the electronic version) you will find your individual 4-digit DRN. You will need to reference this number if you want to make your SAR available to schools you did not originally include on your FAFSA or to make changes to your financial information.
  • Dependency Status: Based on the information provided by students, the federal processor will determine students to be either dependent or independent.
    • ‘D’ indicates dependent status
    • ‘I’ indicates an independent student.
  • Loan Summary: This section will layout any outstanding student loans (if you have no previous student loans you will not see this information).
  • FAFSA Changes: For those with a paper SAR, you will find several pages for correcting any information.

*For more information on commonly used financial aid terms, head over to the Glossary.

Making Sense of the Student Aid Report (SAR)

Once you have located the most important items, it’s time to delve a little deeper into what it all means and how they affect the student loans you are (or are not) offered:

The Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

The EFC is not the amount you or your family will actually pay* for college. Instead, the number represents how much money you or your family can afford to put towards college, based on information you’ve provided on the FAFSA, including: your family’s income, assets, number of college-age students and other factors.

*The amount that you end up having to pay could be less than, more than or equal to the EFC since many colleges use their own formula for calculating financial need.

The EFC Breakdown

This section shows the EFC based on the length of the students’ loan period. Typically this EFC breaks down into a nine month calendar year. Schools with nontraditional loan periods (ones other than nine months) will use another format to provide the correct breakdown.


Around a third of SAR are routinely selected for verification — it is not an indication of misconduct on your part, simply a way to correct discrepancies, handle unique ‘family’ units or limit errors. If your SAR has been selected for verification, you will find additional financial documentation must be submitted in order to qualify for federal aid.

Fill out a Verification Worksheet and send it along with supporting documentation (e.g., tax returns, W-2, etc.) as soon as possible. Federal financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis; until you are verified, the application process is not complete.

Pell Grant Eligibility

Do not be surprised or concerned if you are not eligible for Pell Grants (loans which do not have to be repaid). These are only offered to low-income families or those with little access to post-secondary education, and it is very difficult to meet the need-based requirements.

Correcting or Updating Your Student Aid Report (SAR)

Your SAR are snapshots of your financial situation at the time you signed and submitted the FAFSA. Therefore, if your financial, marital or dependency situation has changed since you originally signed the FAFSA, such information is not being reflected in your current SAR. Additionally, if there are errors in the information used to compile the SAR, that information may be preventing you from being eligible for certain loans.

It is important that you confirm all your information is correct. Make any necessary changes as soon as possible, and be sure to sign any corrections before submitting them back to the federal processor.

Visit FAFSA.gov to make online corrections or updates to your Student Aid Report (SAR). You will need your Federal Student Aid PIN. If you have a paper SAR, write in the corrections or updates on your documents, sign it, and mail it to the address provided.

Get Help Navigating the Financial Aid Process

Don’t be discouraged if you are still having trouble making sense of the Student Aid Report (SAR) and other aspects of the application process. You aren’t alone — nearly 90% of all FAFSAs are submitted with errors and inconsistencies and college applications are no different. There are financial aid advisors and college planners out there with the expertise to ensure you have the best college experience at an expense you (or your parents) can handle

You may want to consider hiring a professional college planner to help guide you through the process and better yet, fill out forms thoroughly and correctly. A good college planner will review your finances, help you find extra income or free scholarship money and inform you about the numerous ways to pay off student loans.

How you filed your FAFSA will affect how soon you get your SAR. If you filed electronically and chose to receive your SAR via email, you should receive your SAR within a few days. If you filed a paper FAFSA, you should receive your SAR via postal mail in three to four weeks.

If you have not received your SAR within four weeks of submitting your FAFSA, contact the U.S. Department of Education at: 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243), or visit the FAFSA Help Center.

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About Amanda Jensen

FSN college advice columnist - Amanda gives parents and students knowledgeable advice on college planning, tuition financing and scholarships. With up to date and accessible information covering everything from personal finances to federal government policies, she is determined to make the college experience a painless one for all party's involved. You can find Amanda on !

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