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How will I get my financial aid money?

December 09, 2018

Once you have submitted the FAFSA application and reviewed your Student Aid Report (SAR), you’ve patiently waited to find out how much financial aid you’ll receive and from what schools. Now that you have the letter, you have a lot of questions!

Receiving your aid letter

For any school that you have listed on your FAFSA application and to which you have been accepted, you will receive a letter showing how much aid you are eligible for at their specific school. This letter may come in the mail or electronically and the timing for it’s arrival will vary. According to the U.S. Department of Education, you might hear as early as winter or immediately before you start school.

On the letter, you will see various types of aid offered to help cover all of your college expenses. Aid types include federal, state, private, and school sources. Together, this is your federal aid package. The breakdown of your aid award will be different at each school.

To figure out which school will be the most affordable, you will need to figure out the net price for each school.

Accepting the financial aid offer

Do not accept your entire aid package blindly. Review each aid type and accept individually. Only borrow what you need. That way, you will have less in loans and interest to pay off after college. The rules for accepting aid are:

  1. Start with the free money. These are grants and scholarships. You won’t have to pay any of this money back, but there might be stipulations to receiving this aid continuously, such as maintaining a certain GPA.

  2. If you need more financial support, accept the earned money. This is your work-study. You won’t have to pay back this money either, but you will have to work for it.

  3. As a last resort, accept the borrowed money. These are you loans that you will have to pay back with interest. In this category, first accept your subsidized federal loans, then unsubsidized, then loans from your state or college, and finally private loans.

For more information about why to accept aid in this order, review FAFSA’s chart.

Instructions for accepting and rejecting aid will be included within your financial aid package. Once you have reviewed your aid options and are ready to make an educated selection, follow the provided instructions for completion. If you have questions, you can contact your financial aid office directly.

Getting your financial aid


Your school is required to make grant and loan payments at least twice a year, and often will do so once a term (semester, quarter, trimester).

If you are a first-time borrower, you might have to wait 30 days after your enrollment period to receive your money. If you’re a first-time borrower of subsidized or unsubsidized loans, you will be required to take entrance counseling before you will receive any money. Do this as soon as possible, so that your aid isn’t delayed.

If you are on work-study, your school job is required to pay you at least once a month.


Your college will first use your grant and loan money to cover the semester’s tuition, fees and room and board (if you live on campus). Any money left over will be provided to you for other school expenses. You will likely get to choose how you receive that money.

In the case of federal loans, if a loan payment is automatically disbursed and you no longer need that money, you have 120 days to cancel it for no fee and with no interest charged.

For work-study, you will be paid like any other job: by check, direct deposit or cash for the hours worked. You are expected (but not required) to use these earnings towards school-related needs. Some schools will allow you to put all or some of your earnings directly back into the school to cover your tuition, etc.