In January and February, most families have wrapped up the financial aid process and are eagerly awaiting their financial aid award letter.
If your family has a first-time college student, you are more anxious than ever to find out what awards you’ve received. You will want to review and compare costs for making that all-important college decision by May 1st.
I’ve got some news for you, though, if you are expecting those financial aid letters to come in as soon as you hit submit on the FAFSA: you’re probably in for a long wait.
Waiting to see the awards and take those final steps to prepare for college can be excruciating! But it may help you to know some tips and guidelines on the general financial aid timeline, and that you actually can have a good idea of when to expect your awards to come trickling in.
First of all, if you are a returning student (have attended your college in the previous year), don’t expect anything until the summer… like July, or even August. Colleges have no reason to submit a ‘preliminary’ award letter to you, because you aren’t making the decision of whether to attend that college anymore.
Also, for the most part, as long as your grades and academic and financial situation remain the same each year, you can expect to receive approximately the same award package as you did for the previous year. Your family should have a good idea, then, of the out-of-pocket costs required and the school’s payment schedule.
For first-year students, the schedule of financial aid award release may depend a lot on your application submission, and financial aid, deadlines. Most all ‘Early Decision’ and many ‘Early Action’ plans will release their decisions and financial aid together, and typically much earlier (generally starting in December).
Colleges that admit and release decisions on a ‘rolling basis’ (continuously year-round) will likely still take around four weeks to award financial aid packages. For any college, it’s important to remember that October through March is the height of busy season for the financial aid office. Any documentation review, regardless of deadline, will probably have a 2-4 week processing period.
Additionally, you can often tell a lot about a college’s financial aid timeline based on the difficulty of admission. Unfortunately, those tougher schools that are more selective will take even longer to release financial aid awards (even into the second week of April)! These colleges compete less for your decision and will often have later deadlines for the ‘Regular Decision’ applicants anyway.
For any college and admission status, you can always get a more accurate timeline by calling the financial aid office directly. If all documentation has been received, they can usually give you a 2-week window of when those packages will be released.
Until Next Time,
Hope Santos, Director of Financial Aid