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Understanding the Better FAFSA’s Student Aid Index

November 12, 2023
By Brendan Williams

Understanding the Better FAFSA’s Student Aid Index

One significant change students can expect to see on the Better FAFSA launching in December 2023 is a shift from Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to Student Aid Index (SAI). This isn’t just a change in terminology but also a revision of the calculation method. As a result, students who filled out the FAFSA in previous years may see their financial aid eligibility change. While most students will see increased financial aid eligibility, some might experience a decrease. To help you better assist the students and families you work with, let’s review the critical differences between SAI and EFC and answer questions you may have. 

Why the change from EFC to SAI?

The new terminology and calculation method were introduced in the legislation to create a more streamlined FAFSA. The term Student Aid Index better describes how information from the FAFSA is used in the financial aid process–the Index measures a student's available financial resources and determines their financial aid eligibility, not their family's expected contribution or the dollar amount they will have to pay. 

What’s different between EFC and SAI?

  • SAI can go as low as -1,500; non-tax filers will automatically receive a -1,500 SAI.
  • Any student with an SAI between -1,500 and 0 will be eligible for the full Pell Grant amount.
  • The number of siblings or other dependents in college is not a part of the SAI calculation.
  • The net worth of all small businesses and farms will be included in the SAI calculation (if required to report assets).

How do I explain SAI to students and families?

The SAI measures the financial resources available to a student to help pay for college. The federal government, state government, and colleges will use SAI to determine a student's eligibility for different types of financial aid.

How do I explain a -1,500 or 0 SAI to students?

“The FAFSA used your submitted tax information to calculate your Student Aid Index. Having an SAI that is zero or below means you will qualify to get the maximum amount of the Pell Grant, a government grant. Your college(s) will also use this number to understand how much financial aid you may need. Before receiving your financial aid offer, we can't determine how much financial aid you'll receive, but your SAI will help the college decide how much they can offer.”

Are students with a negative SAI eligible to receive more financial aid?

No. Regardless of their SAI, students can not receive more financial aid than their cost of attendance. Students with an SAI of 0 or below will be eligible for the full Pell Grant. In some cases, colleges can use the negative SAI to identify students with the highest need to distribute institutional funds. 

Which students might experience decreases in aid eligibility from EFC to SAI?

Students who filled out the FAFSA in the past may experience decreases in financial aid eligibility if any of the following is true:

  • They have siblings in college. 
  • Their parent(s) now need to report the net worth of a business or farm as an asset that was previously excluded.
  • The parent they include on their FAFSA changed due to the new requirement to have the parent who provided the most financial support on the FAFSA. 

Can a student appeal their SAI?

Yes, students have the option to submit an appeal to their college to see if they will consider a specific circumstance, such as a change in income, a significant expense, or one or more siblings in college. Based on the appeal, colleges can decide whether or not it warrants an adjustment to the student's SAI.

To learn more about what to expect for the 2024-25 FAFSA, check out our blog and register for uAspire’s free webinar. Also, throughout the fall and winter we’ll continue to update our student resources to reflect FAFSA changes.