The FAFSA® has been sent! Now what?
Have you submitted a FAFSA this winter? If so, give yourself a hearty pat on the back. The FAFSA can be a daunting application for families, and seeing that Confirmation Page pop up on the computer screen confirms that a huge step in the financial aid application process has been completed. And though your family should feel a sense of accomplishment once you've reached that step, it's important to understand what happens next.
- After receiving your FAFSA, the Department of Education will review your application, a process that takes 3-5 days, and then send your family an email, addressed to the student, with instructions on how to download the Student Aid Report (SAR). Those students without a reported email address will be mailed the SAR. The SAR includes a summary of data reported on the FAFSA, as well as the student's Expected Family Contribution (EFC).
- The EFC is a calculated number, based on a standard federal formula, and it represents the amount of college costs that your family should be able to absorb for one academic year. Colleges use this calculated EFC to determine the student's eligibility for financial aid. By subtracting each family's EFC from the school's total academic year cost, the college calculates the amount of funding that each family "needs" in financial aid. The financial aid office then does its best to fill in that calculated "need" amount with grants, scholarships, work-study and loans.
- In the meantime, your family may be contacted by several colleges with a request to provide additional financial documentation, due to a federally-mandated process called Verification. Through this process, your family may be required to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which updates the FAFSA with your 2013 tax return figures, or submit an official tax return transcript, which can be requested on IRS.gov.
- Once financial aid offers have been determined, you should expect to receive those notifications via mail or email, either with the admissions decision, or shortly thereafter. With those offers in hand, your family will then evaluate your options, and decide by May 1st─the universal enrollment deadline─where the student will attend college next fall.
We've got a great section on our website that describes this entire process in more detail, including an explanation of the EFC calculation, tip sheets on the IRS Data Retrieval Tool and Verification and a sample financial aid offer. Make sure to stay on top of this process. Keeping up with all financial aid requirements is the best way to ensure that you receive the most financial aid for which you are eligible.