Confused about certain terms that arise during the FAFSA filing process? Worry no more!

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

This form must be filled out for you to get federal financial aid such as grants, loans, and work-study jobs. For the 2014 school year, it may be submitted beginning January 1, 2014, but some forms of aid are first come, first served. So, the sooner you apply, the better! Also, remember that the FAFSA is just an application - there is no such thing as a FAFSA loan. Federal student loans such as the Stafford loan and PLUS loan are what you apply for after filing the FAFSA.

Student Aid Report (SAR)

A document you receive after your FAFSA is processed. Your SAR will list all of the answers you provided on your FAFSA. You should review these answers carefully to make sure they are correct. If you need to make any changes, you can do so on the SAR and mail it back to the address provided, or you can go to www.fafsa.ed.gov and select "Make Corrections to a Processed FAFSA" from the FAFSA Follow-up section.

FAFSA Transaction

A number created every time a FAFSA or a correction to a FAFSA is processed. For example, you file your FAFSA and it is processed, creating Transaction 01. A correction to your Student Aid Report (SAR) is processed, creating Transaction 02. Another correction to your SAR is processed – you’ve got Transaction 03. If you received a paper Student Aid Report (SAR), your transaction number is located in the lower right corner on each page of your SAR, right after the Social Security Number and the first two letters of the last name. If it was printed from www.fafsa.ed.gov, your transaction number is located in the upper right hand corner of the SAR, right after your SSN.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC)

This amount indicates how much money the government estimates a student and family can afford to contribute toward the year's college costs. Income, assets, benefits, family size, and the number of family members in college are figured into the EFC. Most schools leave a "gap" or "unmet need" between the EFC and the student's aid award.


A set of four numbers or six letters that is necessary when you:

  • Sign your FAFSA, Renewal FAFSA or Corrections on the Web electronically (no paper signature page needed).
  • View the status and/or results of your FAFSA, Renewal FAFSA or Corrections on the Web
  • Access the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) Website (www.nslds.ed.gov) and view information about loans and other federal student aid you may have received.
  • Access the Direct Loan Servicing Website (www.dl.ed.gov) and view information about Direct Loans you may have received.
  • Access the Direct Loan Consolidation Website (www.loanconsolidation.ed.gov) to track the processing status of your online Consolidation Loan application.
  • You may also E-sign the Master Promissory Note for your Federal Direct Loan (https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/index.action).

Read more information about your FAFSA PIN.

FAFSA Renewal

If you've already completed your FAFSA, in a previous year, you're eligible for a FAFSA Renewal form. There is much less work involved with this form, as it mostly requires the student to simply update the information entered on their original FAFSA.

Data Release Number (DRN)

A four-digit number assigned to your application by the U.S. Department of Education. The electronic Student Aid Report (SAR) will print on the DRN in the upper right corner, the paper SAR will print it on the lower left corner.

School Codes

The distinct six digit number given to each college. It is required for the FAFSA. Looking for your school's code? View our list of FAFSA school codes.

Signature Page

If you choose not to sign your FAFSA electronically, then you (and at least one parent, if you are a dependent student) can sign a paper signature page. For renewing your FAFSA on the Web and Corrections on the Web, a signature page from the parent of dependent students is necessary only if parental data is provided or altered.


IRS form that is sent to you by your employer and includes salary information and taxes withheld for the prior year.

Independent vs. Dependent Student

This is answered in our FAFSA Q & A.

Award Letter

A notice from a financial aid office to a financial aid applicant that specifies the financial aid programs and dollar amount of each financial aid award.


The on-campus office where you pay your tuition and associated fees.

Cost of Attendance

The total sum of a student's tuition, room/board, books, supplies, transportation, associated loan fees, and any other expenses. Read more about Cost of Attendance.

CSS/Financial Aid Profile

The CSS profile is information collected by the College Board  in order for colleges to award non-federal student aid funds. Students are charged a nonrefundable registration fee of $25 plus $16 for each college or scholarship program to which information is sent, unless they qualify for a fee waiver.