Your Student Aid Index: What’s a Good SAI?

Students and families ask: What is this new Student Aid Index, or SAI? How will this number affect the amount of college financial aid I receive?

And what is a “good” SAI?

These are great questions. The long answer involves lots of confusing calculations. But the short answer is simple: Your SAI is a number calculated by the federal government to determine whether or not you are eligible for a Pell Grant and the government’s lowest-cost loans.

The government uses the information you provide on your FAFSA to roughly calculate how much you and your family can afford to pay for college. The government wants to make sure that its funds are reserved for low-income students and families. The SAI ensures that Pell Grants and low-cost loans are distributed to those who need them most.

College financial aid officers may use your SAI to guide them as they put together a package of grants, scholarships, and loans that will make it financially possible for you to attend their school.

There is a lot to know about the Student Aid Index. Here are the most common questions we get.


Q: What is the Student Aid Index (SAI)?

A: Your SAI is a number calculated by the federal government using financial and family information from your FAFSA. For those familiar with prior versions of the FAFSA, it replaces the EFC, or Expected Family Contribution.


Q: What does the number mean?

A: The lower your Student Aid Index, the more aid you are likely to get. Your SAI can go as low as negative 1,500. Yes, that’s below zero! An SAI that is zero or below guarantees that you will get the most federal aid available, including the maximum Pell Grant. (This will be $7,395 for the 2024-25 school year.) As this number climbs, there is less chance that you will get federal Pell Grants, but you will still be eligible for federal loans and possibly college-funded grants, depending on your family’s income.


Q: What is a good SAI?

A: As a student, a good Student Aid Index number is one that will result in lots of scholarships and grants (or “free money”), allowing you to attend college as cheaply as possible. The lower your SAI, the more need-based aid you will receive.

Looking at your SAI and trying to get your head around what it means? We like College Investor’s 2024 – 2025 Student Aid Index Chart. You can look up your family income and family size and get a sense of where you stand, depending on the type of college you plan to attend. And be sure to check the reader questions at the bottom of the article where the website’s publisher is personally interpreting everyone’s SAI score.


Q: How will colleges use my SAI?

A: The SAI is simply a number, but colleges convert it to a dollar figure to estimate how much money your family will need to attend their school.

College financial aid officers first estimate how much money you will need to attend their school. (This is called your “cost of attendance,” or COA.) Then, the financial aid office looks at money you are getting elsewhere, including state grants and private scholarships. (This is called “other financial assistance,” or OFA.)

The financial aid office uses these three numbers to figure out how much money you will need to go to their school. They use this figure to come up with a package of grants and loans that might make it possible for you to attend.

College’s COA – Your SAI – Your OFA =
How Much More Money You’ll Need to Attend That College


Q: Will I get more money with a negative SAI?

A: Maybe. Any SAI that is zero or below guarantees a maximum Pell Grant. However, colleges may see your negative SAI and decide to give you more grant money from their private funds.


Q: I have a high SAI. Will I get college money?

A: It’s unlikely that you will get need-based aid unless your family is in some kind of financial distress that is not captured by the questions on the FAFSA. (For instance, a parent may now be out of work or burdened with major health expenses.) Students should let colleges know about any severe financial problems.

In addition, all students may be eligible for college merit aid or institutional scholarships. Private colleges routinely offer scholarships to make college affordable to working- and middle-class families.


Q: How is the SAI calculated?

A: The SAI is calculated by looking at tax information, savings, assets, and investments that you or your parents may have. All of this information is collected on your FAFSA. There’s a long calculation used by the government. You can see what exactly goes into these calculations here under “Income Components” or get a detailed explanation of each item here.


Q: How much Pell Grant money I will get?

A: After you fill out your FAFSA, you will receive a FAFSA Submission Summary in your email and on your dashboard at This summary will include your SAI and an estimate of your federal aid. If you haven’t filled out your FAFSA yet, you can get a good number using the federal government’s Federal Student Aid Estimator.


Q: Will my SAI change?

A: Yes, it could change each year you are in college. Your SAI is subject to change each year since it is dependent on annual tax information. But remember, the FAFSA uses the tax information from the previous year to calculate this information.


A: Can I change or challenge my SAI number?

A: Maybe. If you think your SAI seems incorrect, there are two things you can do. First, carefully look through your answers on the FAFSA. (You can check your answers on your FAFSA Submission Summary.) You may have accidentally put in the wrong number in the financials or family section. Or there may have been problems with your tax upload. Correct any mistakes that you can and reach out to the financial aid offices of the colleges you hope to attend to make sure the information is correct on their end.

Colleges may be able to change some numbers on your FAFSA if there is good reason to do so. For example, your financials may have changed since the FAFSA tax year that was used. This might result in more federal or college aid. Contact your college aid offices and let them know why you think your SAI might be wrong or why you need to appeal for more money.

You cannot challenge your SAI with Federal Student Aid, the agency that calculates your SAI. You will need to work with the colleges you are interested in attending to either change your SAI or get more aid from their college funds.

Get More Help from Federal Student Aid:

What is the Student Aid Index (SAI)?

How is the Student Aid Index (SAI) calculated?

What Financial Information is Used to Calculate the Student Aid Index?

What is the FAFSA Submission Summary?

What is a Pell Grant?

Try the Federal Student Aid Estimator



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