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How to Finalize Your Financial Aid Before Starting College

Last updated July 3, 2024

An important action item on the summer before college checklist is to finalize your financial aid for your first year of school. No matter what college you’re attending, here are some steps to take this summer to ensure your financial aid is in order for the fall!

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File your FAFSA

If you haven't already, now is the time to complete your FAFSA. While the federal deadline for the 2024-2025 FAFSA isn't until June 30, 2025, we highly recommend filing it ASAP. Completing the FAFSA before state and institutional deadlines can help you be considered for all the forms of financial aid available to you, such as scholarships, loans, and grants. Read more about completing the FAFSA here.

Review your financial aid award letter

Your financial aid award letter from your college breaks down the total cost of attendance for your first year of school, as well as the total amount of aid they will offer to you. It's important to know exactly what you are responsible for paying as you prepare to head off to school, so if you have any questions, be sure to contact your school's financial aid office.

Review your tuition bill

Once you receive your first tuition bill from your college, be sure to compare it with your financial award letter to learn how much you’ll still owe for your first term. Any financial aid you receive will be credited to your student financial account. After your financial aid is disbursed, you will either have an amount that you still owe or you will have excess funds that will be disbursed to you by check or direct deposit. Students use these funds, typically known as “refunds,” to pay for rent, books, school supplies, and other school-related expenses.

While it’s normal to have a gap in financial aid for many students, you have a few options to try and close that gap with more aid:

  1. When you completed the FAFSA, you reported your contributors' tax and financial information from two years ago. If your family's financial situation has changed significantly since then, you can complete a change in financial circumstances appeal form once you receive your financial aid award letter from your college. Completing this form allows you to request that your school’s financial aid office take a closer look at your current financial situation and adjust your offer accordingly, potentially increasing the amount of aid you’ll receive for that school year.
  2. Apply for as many scholarships as you can. Scholarship funds are typically free, meaning you won’t have to pay them back. There are millions of dollars available to students in scholarships every year– don’t miss out on free money for college!
  3. Secure a work-study job. When you completed your FAFSA, you were asked if you were interested in being considered for work-study. If you checked "Yes," your college participates in the work-study program, and you meet their eligibility requirements, you’ll see “Work-Study” listed on your financial aid award letter. This will make you eligible to get an on-campus, part-time job that can give you money for tuition and living expenses. 

Familiarize yourself with the requirements to keep your financial aid

Some forms of financial aid, such as scholarships, will have requirements that students must meet in order to keep them. For example, some will have minimum GPA requirements, while others will require students to be enrolled in a certain number of credits. Regardless of what requirements your forms of aid have, it’s important to be aware of them. If you don’t meet these requirements, you could lose your aid, making you responsible for paying any gaps.

Manage your money

Learning how to earn, save, and spend money is an essential life skill that will benefit you in college and beyond. In addition to school expenses, you will have other expenses in college, such as food, laundry, transportation, and more. Understanding things like how to budget or use a credit card wisely while in college can help you stay on top of your finances and ensure that your expenses are being taken care of. Check out our money management resources to learn more!

Have any questions about finalizing your financial aid before starting college? Text #College to 33-55-77 to chat with one of our advisors. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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