How to Alleviate the Stress of SAR Comment Codes

Receiving a Student Aid Report (SAR) that contains one or more comment codes can sometimes be intimidating for students and families because they think they’ve done something wrong.

That’s why it’s important for staff in the financial aid office to be knowledgeable about what the comment codes mean and how to resolve them. The problem is, it can be equally as daunting for financial aid staff to sift through the U. S. Department of Education’s 125-page guide on “SAR Comment Codes and Text,” which identifies 360 potential comment codes and how to rectify C codes if necessary!

When I worked at a large public university, my primary job was managing the SAR/ISIR process. Over time I realized what our frontline customer service staff needed was a quick reference sheet to answer questions from students and families about SAR comments in a straightforward and easy way.

To address this need, I developed a four-page FAQ document as a kind of excerpt of the 125-page ED guide. The FAQ included some of the most common SAR comment text associated with C codes, like citizenship. I used the comment code text exactly as it appears on a student’s SAR, along with some standard student questions and corresponding responses that our staff could relay to students and families. By utilizing the exact text, customer service staff could relay the exact same information as ED. Some comments include question numbers that need updating or completing; therefore, it is important to be consistent when relaying the needs of the financial aid office and ED. After creating the initial document, it was fairly easy to update annually based on any changes in the SAR comments.

The SAR comment FAQ proved to be very helpful for our customer service staff and our students because it alleviated some of the stress around resolving these issues. This kind of a tool can be useful for schools that have a “one-stop” student service model where staff outside of the financial aid area answer basic financial aid questions. It is most helpful when training new staff or work-study students. By using a single reference sheet, all staff can provide consistent information to students and families about resolving SAR comments and alleviate some of the stress surrounded with applying for financial aid.

As a final takeaway, it’s important to remember that students and parents may be calling your school for the very first time with questions about their FAFSA or SAR. Having a quick reference sheet about SAR comments for your customer service staff can help demonstrate your office’s expertise and ensure a good first impression. Ultimately, this could be part of the deciding factor about whether the student chooses to attend your school.

What other kinds of tools does your office use to help enhance customer service for your students?

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