How to Check Your Financial Aid Status

checking financial aid status
Graduating from college is a proud moment, but it can cost a lot of money. Question is: Who's paying?
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To be eligible for federal financial aid (and in most cases, state, school and private aid), all U.S. college-bound students must first complete a dreaded task: filling out their FAFSA form. Sure, it's not much more taxing than say, filling out actual taxes, but how many people are thrilled at the thought of that?

The FAFSA, which stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a form that's typically completed online and evaluates students' abilities to pay for their educations. Depending on each individual's situation, he or she is eligible to receive varying degrees of financial aid. For example, someone being raised by a single parent with several children and no high school diploma is probably going to get a little more financial aid than the child of a college-educated two-parent household that earns $150,000 a year.


After students have gone online and completed their FAFSAs, the folks at the Office of Federal Student Aid get to work processing the forms to determine each individual's EFC or Expected Family Contribution. This is an estimate of how much the students and their families will be expected to pony up, covering it with some combination of financial choices such as savings, income, scholarships and student loans.

But once a student has carefully, meticulously and accurately filled out his or her FAFSA form and sent it off into the ether, what happens next? As students and their parents wait to find out how much financial aid will be coming their way, a couple of possibilities could be in store for them. Find out what they are on the next page.



Fishing Through FAFSA

The fastest way to get FAFSA results (and a jump start on others looking for financial aid) is to submit early and submit electronically. Students who file their forms online and sign them with a PIN (personal identification number) can use that password to monitor their applications' progress, and they should start checking back after a week. Students who manually sign hard copies and submit them through the mail often have to wait two or three weeks before they can expect anything to be ready.

Some students may find that they need to make changes to their FAFSA applications. Maybe they estimated what they would pay in taxes in order to file early, or they need to change which schools will be receiving copies of their FAFSA results. These sorts of fixes must wait until after the application is processed, but can then be performed online anytime after that. Students will want to get a PIN at this point if they haven't already gotten one. It takes one to three days for the PINs to work while the Office of Federal Student Aid verifies students' identities with the Social Security Administration, but after that's settled, the students can make corrections like adding or deleting schools.


Once the FAFSA application is all set to go, students who filled out their forms online and submitted e-mail addresses will receive an e-mail that gives them access to their SAR, or Student Aid Report. Students who didn't provide an e-mail address or who submitted paper forms will receive their reports through the mail. The SAR will either provide a student's preliminarily estimated EFC on the upper right corner of the front page or include a request for more information.

Students may be asked to verify their application by the Office of Federal Student Aid, their state government or their prospective school. It's important to be able to back up FAFSA responses with the appropriate documents. Also, if a family's financial situation has substantially changed for the worse since the previous calendar year, documentation can help fuel an appeal with the college financial aid office.

But with a settled SAR in hand, students should then contact their schools' financial aid administrators to determine how much aid they'll be getting.

For more information useful to everyone from new parents to college students to nearly empty nesters, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "After You File the FAFSA." The ACT. (1/6/2010)
  • Clark, Kim. "10 Tips for Getting More Financial Aid." U.S. News and World Report. June 16, 2009. (1/6/2010)
  • Federal Student Aid Web site. (1/6/2010)
  • Van Bergen, Duane. "Common Mistakes To Avoid When Completing The FAFSA." National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Feb. 12, 2009. (1/6/2010)