Shortly after you complete your FAFSA, your Student Aid Report, or SAR, becomes available. The SAR is not an aid offer; it is a summary of your FAFSA and includes your EFC as calculated based on the information you entered.

When you receive your SAR, it’s important to actually look at it, even if you don’t think you’ll be eligible for aid. You’ll see your EFC at the top. It’s probably a bigger number than you anticipated– maybe even 1/4 or 1/3 of your parents’ income. If you are applying to schools where you are outside the top 20% of applicants academically, you should expect to pay at least your EFC every year. So if your EFC is unaffordable, it’s time to start looking more seriously at the schools where you’re likely to get a merit aid offer. This is not likely to be your “reach” schools.

Then you’ll see a paragraph that says, “WHAT YOU MUST DO NOW” which you must do. This includes not just using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to update your income information once you’ve filed your taxes but also discrepancies in your information that the system has identified that you MUST correct.

Finally, the SAR summarizes the information you provided when you filled out the FAFSA. If anything isn’t right here, now is your chance to correct it. Do so by going back to your FAFSA application and choosing “Make FAFSA Corrections.” By the way, if you want your FASFA info provided to additional schools, that is also done via “Make FAFSA Corrections.”

Keep in mind that actual disbursement of aid occurs at the school level. Each school you apply to will treat your EFC somewhat differently, so the simple fact of an EFC that’s below the Cost of Attendance at some of your schools does not guarantee a great aid package.