Your student has received their financial aid letter, committed to their chosen school, and now they wait.
It’s an exciting time!
Meanwhile, you’re probably setting the final pieces in place, especially the financial ones.
One key consideration as you get ready to send your student to school is, how is financial aid disbursed?
When can you expect it, and what happens to anything above and beyond tuition and fees?
Read on to discover what to expect from financial aid.
How Does Financial Aid Disbursement Work?
Schools are required to disburse federal financial aid, such as Direct Loans and Pell Grants, at the beginning of each academic term. If a school has unusual terms and doesn’t use semesters or quarters, it must disburse funds at least twice per academic year.
Direct PLUS loans are disbursed according to the same type of schedule as well, at least twice per academic year.
Funds are credited to the student’s account. They will be applied to fees in a specific order:
- Tuition and fees
- Room and board
- Other school charges if applicable
If you receive a bill from the school, it’s because this set of expenses has not been fully covered by the aid you have.
If the aid your child received goes beyond this, the excess amount will be returned to the student or parent, depending on who’s name the aid or loan is in. If your student is not in their first semester, the school will send the money within a couple weeks of when classes start.
Disbursement for First Year College Students
If your student is receiving federal Direct Loans, they must attend entrance counseling before funds can be disbursed. The purpose of this counseling is to ensure students understand the terms of the loans they are receiving.
Entrance counseling generally includes clarification that student aid funds are a loan, and must be paid back. Students also receive advice about managing expenses at school and are encouraged to borrow only what they truly need.
For the first semester of school, it may take four weeks to receive excess funds from financial aid, rather than the usual two weeks.
Parents who take out Direct PLUS Loans do not have to go through entrance counseling.
Disbursement of Financial Aid Funds
The school will keep the money required for tuition, room, board, and fees. If there is financial aid left over, the refund can be delivered in a variety of ways.
Your student may be able to receive the money by:
- Direct transfer to the bank account
- Prepaid debit card
The exact process will vary based on the school. Check with the financial aid office to make sure that your preferred refund method is available. You may need to fill out paperwork to get the money sent to a bank account.
Once your student receives the left over money, they can use it to pay for textbooks, supplies, transportation, and other school-related costs.
Disbursement of Grants
While the distribution of Direct Loans is regulated by the government, the disbursement of grants is more flexible.
Pell Grants may take longer to receive than other types of aid.
Be sure to contact the financial aid office so that you can receive early access to funds.
The school has to provide a way for you to buy required textbooks and supplies by the 7th day of the term, if your Pell Grant will generate credit balance on your account.
Grants can be disbursed by the school in one lump sum or in multiple installments throughout the year.
Reasons for a Delay in Financial Aid Disbursement
If your student hasn’t received the expected aid disbursement, contact the school’s financial aid office right away.
There are a number of things that could cause a delay:
- The college did not verify your eligibility
- The student is not registered for the appropriate number of credits for the term
- The student has not gone through entrance counseling
- There is unresolved conflicting information from the FAFSA
- The student has not signed the Master Promissory Note (MPN) for Direct Loans
You will generally be notified if there are concerns before the term begins, but sometimes things fall through the cracks. You or the student should contact the financial aid office and quickly resolve any concerns.
Financial Aid Appeal
Many families might find that the financial aid they are awarded won’t cover the expenses they have, and they may have good cause to appeal. The first step in the process is to determine whether your reasons for appealing are legitimate.
Once that is verified, you can continue with the your appeal by writing a letter and contacting the appropriate authorities.
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