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Understanding Student Aid

An integral part of the college financial aid process is the Student Aid Index, or SAI. This number is the basis for the amount of financial aid made available to a student. The following Q & A addresses many of the common concerns about SAI.

What is an SAI?

The Student Aid Index, or SAI, is calculated based on the student's needs. The student's, parents' and, if applicable, student's spouse's income and assets are used in the calculation. College or university financial aid offices use this analysis and the information you provide to determine financial aid, including federal, state and institutional grants, scholarships, work-study and loans.

The SAI number is not necessarily any of the following:

  • The amount of financial aid you will receive from any specific institution.
  • The amount your family is able to contribute to college expenses.
  • The same for multiple institutions.
  • The same as another student's SAI, even if it seems the other student is in a similar financial situation.

How is the SAI determined?

The Student Aid Index, or SAI, takes into account your family's taxed and untaxed income, assets and benefits (such as unemployment or Social Security benefits).

How is the SAI communicated?

Each year, the U.S. Department of Education opens the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for new and returning students who will attend college the following academic year. After submitting a completed FAFSA and required financial information, students are able to view a FAFSA Submission Summary that includes your SAI number

The FAFSA may be completed as early as the fall before the next academic year.

How can I estimate the SAI?

Federal Student Aid offers an estimator to help families estimate eligibility for federal student aid.

Colleges may also provide a net price calculator to help families estimate the amount of aid they might receive. To find a calculator for any specific college, browse the financial aid section of the school website or visit the U.S. Department of Education's net price calculator site.

When should I estimate the SAI?

Families may begin estimating SAI as early as the student's middle school years to get an accurate idea of current costs, available aid and expected student aid. Each college's available funding and costs of attendance may change on a yearly basis, and revisiting the estimator over several years can help families create a more accurate expectation of net cost.

High school juniors and seniors may use the calculators described above to help determine whether they can afford particular colleges before applying.

Where do I find the official cost for a specific college?

Colleges provide a financial aid offer to accepted students in the spring before the beginning of the next school year. The financial aid offer lists the amount of financial aid available to the student.

Why does the SAI result in a higher net cost than the amount my family can really afford?

The tax information supplied on the FAFSA, which is used to calculate SAI, is from the "prior prior" tax year. A student entering college in 2025 would provide the family's 2023 tax information, in addition to other, current financial information. If a family's financial situation has changed significantly since the applicable tax year, the SAI may not reflect that.

In addition, the SAI may consider assets that the family is not able or unwilling to free up for college expenses.

Can I appeal the SAI?

If your family's financial situation has changed since the applicable tax year or since completing the financial aid process, you may wish to contact the financial aid office at any college(s) under consideration to determine next steps.

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