Financial Aid

Understanding Your Student Aid Index (SAI)

Topics include defining the SAI, the SAI formula, where to find your SAI, and multiple SAIs.
Woman using laptop on steps

If you have a college-bound high school senior, you've likely become familiar with the FAFSA, the main application for financial aid (if not, start here to get acquainted). The FAFSA helps colleges determine your eligibility for grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study, and they do so using your Student Aid Index (SAI), a calculated number personal to your family. Your SAI is a key component of the financial aid process. We give the details on how it works below.

What is my SAI?

SAI stands for Student Aid Index. It's a number calculated by imputing the information you submitted on your FAFSA (and sometimes other financial aid applications like the CSS Profile) into a standard formula used by every college in the country. It is intended to represent your family's financial strength and the amount you can pay for college.

So the SAI determines what I'll pay for college?

Unfortunately, no. It's just a calculated number based on a formula to help colleges get a sense of your financial situation. The amount you'll pay for college is based on the cost of the school minus any financial aid you receive.

Who creates the SAI formula?

The formula is managed by Federal Student Aid, a department within the federal government, and approved by Congress every year.

What can I find out my SAI?

Your FAFSA Submission Summary (FSS), which is emailed to the student after a FAFSA is submitted, lists your SAI. You can also log back in to your FAFSA and view your SAI on the Confirmation page.

My college mentioned they use a few different calculations. What do they mean?

Colleges that require the CSS Profile usually use a separate calculation to determine your eligibility for financial aid funded by the college. Those schools still use the SAI calculation to award financial aid funded by the federal government and the state. So you'll have a few different calculated numbers at those colleges.

Is my SAI the same at every school?

Schools can exercise Professional Judgment to make certain changes to the data elements on your FAFSA, which can result in a modified SAI. If that occurs, your SAI may differ slightly from school to school. But Professional Judgment is only exercised in special circumstances. For the most part, your federal SAI should be pretty similar at each school.

If you haven't yet completed the FAFSA, and want to get an estimate of your SAI, you can use our Student Aid Index Calculator here. You'll be asked some financial information about your household, but you can utilize the tool anonymously. If you have questions about the SAI or any other part of the financial aid process, call us at (800) 449-MEFA (6332).