After the FAFSA - AMP | Achieving Maximum Potential

After the FAFSA

what to expect after the FAFSA

What to expect after the FAFSA

Congratulations!  You completed your FAFSA! Here are a few things to watch for now:

If a student submits a FAFSA online, the U.S. Department of Education will process it within 3-5 days. Paper FAFSAs take 7-10 days. Once a FAFSA is processed, the student will receive a Student Aid Report (SAR), which summarizes the information from the FAFSA. The SAR will include the student's Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and will be sent to schools listed on the FAFSA. The EFC determines eligibility for student financial aid.

After the FAFSA


If your FAFSA is selected for verification, don’t panic. Roughly one-third of all FAFSAs are selected for this process, where colleges review student financial aid applications for accuracy. The process must be completed before financial aid can be awarded. Your college’s financial aid office will contact you and inform you of steps you need to take.

Student Aid Report

After you complete your FAFSA, the U.S. Department of Education will process the data and compile your Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR will be sent to you and to the colleges you listed on your FAFSA. If you provided an email address, you’ll receive an email with instructions to access an online copy of your SAR; otherwise it will be mailed. 

Typically, you’ll be able to access your SAR within three to five days if you file your FAFSA electronically (seven to 10 days if you file a paper FAFSA). The SAR contains your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) as well as initial information about your Pell Grant eligibility. Colleges and universities use your EFC to determine your eligibility for federal grants, loans, work-study and other financial aid programs.

Expected Family Contribution

Your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC, is the number colleges will use to calculate your eligibility for aid. Variables that determine your EFC include income and net worth for you and your parents, family size, age of older parent, state and federal taxes and number of family members attending college. Your EFC might change from year to year. 

Financial Need 

Each college or university that you list on your FAFSA and that accepts you will determine your Financial Need: the Cost of Attendance (COA) at that school minus your EFC. While Cost of Attendance varies by school, your EFC will remain the same in a given year (unless an unusual family situation arises) regardless of which college or university you attend. The amount of aid you receive cannot exceed the total Cost of Attendance.

Award Letter

Each college or university that you list on your FAFSA and that accepts you will send you an award letter, outlining the federal, state and college-specific financial aid available to you. It might arrive by email or postal mail. It might come with your acceptance letter or shortly afterward. 

Understanding your award letter

This financial aid package is designed to cover your Financial Need by bridging the gap between the Cost of Attendance and Your Expected Family Contribution. To accept the financial aid package offered by a college or university, follow all instructions. This might involve entering aid amounts you intend to accept in an online form or signing and returning a paper award letter by a specified deadline—usually May 1. Talk to the financial aid office at the college or university if an unusual circumstance delays your response.


Where to find private scholarships

Federal and state awards aren't the only sources of free financial aid. Other places to look:

  • Colleges and universities: They might provide scholarships related to areas of study, academic achievements, outstanding talent, leadership, athletic ability or other criteria. Contact the financial aid office and your program department.
  • Corporations: Some offer scholarships to children of employees.
  • School networks: Your high school might offer scholarships for graduating students. Also check with the area alumni association of your college.
  • Community organizations: Many local groups sponsor scholarships. Check with your city or community center for a list of nonprofit and government groups.
  • Religious organizations: Your place of worship might offer scholarships. If not, it might partner with other organizations.

Two websites that we recommend are College Greenlight and BigFuture.

Note: Reputable organizations will not charge for scholarship searches.

Six tips as you budget for college

If you are planning to start college in the fall, it's not too soon to start your college budget. Here are some tips:

  • Overestimate expenses and underestimate income: You are better off ending up with more money on hand than you expected.
  • Involve your family: Determine what will be available from family sources, such as parents. Discuss how financial decisions will be made.
  • Prepare for the unexpected: Set saving goals to build your emergency fund. It will help you cover unusual expenses or changes that might happen while you are in school.
  • Record your expenses: A key part of planning is understanding where your money goes. Start carrying a small notebook or using a phone app to record even the smallest expenditures such as coffee, movie tickets, snacks and parking.

Spend your financial aid refund wisely. If you receive a financial aid refund from your school, don�t spend it all at once. One smart way to use this money is to start paying down any interest that might have accrued on student loans, or even the loan balances.

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