You fill out the FAFSA, which gives you your Student Aid Index (SAI), which is how much your family will pay for college. Seems simple right? Ah, but like most things with the college process, that is unfortunately not the case. Here are 5 things every family should know about that SAI.
1 Your SAI is NOT what you will pay for college
Think of SAI only as a starting point. The FAFSA website defines SAI as “a measure of your family’s financial strength.” The rest is based on the cost — and the financial aid policy — of each college you apply to.
2 SAI determines what colleges call “need”
Colleges subtract your SAI from their cost of attendance to determine if you have financial “need” at their school. Because costs of attendance vary from school to school, you may have financial need at one college, and not at another.
3 If you have a low enough SAI to generate financial need, you may want to consider schools that offer generous need-based aid
Financial aid policies differ for every school, but there are a number of colleges that will meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need. In order to do so, many will require the completion of a second, more rigorous form called the CSS Profile, and some will include student loans (as opposed to only free money in the form of grants and scholarships) in their definition of “meeting need.” No matter what the financial aid policy is, remember that you still need to be accepted to the school to get access to the financial aid package, a challenge at the more selective schools.
4 If you have a high SAI, you may want to consider schools with merit scholarships
If you have a high Student Aid Index that results in little to no financial need, the only real option to reduce the cost of attendance is to qualify for merit scholarships, such as those given for strong academics. The catch is that not every college offers merit aid, so you have to be sure you are applying to the right ones.
5 Your SAI is recalculated each year
Family financial circumstances change each year, so schools require you to fill out the FAFSA each year to qualify for any need-based financial aid as well as be eligible to take advantage of federal student loans. Because Student Aid Index is based on things like parent income and non-retirement assets, and the number of kids you have in college at the same time, it is important to plan ahead when considering the cost over all the years of college.