I am new to all of this and I am wondering how soon we find out how
much financial aid we will be getting. My son has been accepted at 3
colleges and each one wants money to secure his place. One is way
more expensive than the others but if we get enough aid he can go
there. The deposit is non-refundable and I can't afford to send $400
to a college if he can't attend. They want the deposit by May 1st.
Will I know by then? Thanks so much ... this whole thing just
— Teresa B.
Colleges use financial aid award letters to notify families about the
types, amounts and sources of financial aid available to the
student. This collection of financial aid is often referred to as a
financial aid package.
You should receive the financial aid award letter soon, with enough
time to review it before the May 1 deadline. (This assumes, of course,
that you met the college's deadlines to file its financial aid
application forms and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
May 1 is known as the national candidate's reply date or the common
reply date. It is the deadline for accepting offers of admission at
Most colleges send out offers of admission in late March or early
April. The financial aid award letter should arrive at the same time
or a few days later.
Colleges that provide earlier admissions notifications often wait
until a set date to mail the financial aid award letters. Even though
colleges start putting together financial aid packages in
mid-February, they often wait until the March/April timeframe to mail
the financial aid award letters to reduce the uncertainty associated
with some forms of financial aid. For example, some states might not
finalize the state grants until later in the spring. It is also
unclear whether Congress will be cutting the maximum Pell Grant this
If more than two weeks have passed since you filed the Free
Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and you have not yet
received the Student Aid Report (SAR), check the status of your FAFSA
on the www.fafsa.ed.gov
web site. Applicants who submitted the FAFSA online should receive
email about how to access the SAR in 3-5 days. If you did not include
an email address on your FAFSA or you filed a paper FAFSA, you should
receive your SAR by mail in 7-10 days.
After you receive the SAR, your FAFSA may be selected for
verification. It is important to return the verification paperwork as
soon as possible, or you risk delaying your financial aid award
Some colleges have secure online portals they use to deliver the
financial aid award letter instead of sending it by mail. Login to the
portal to check whether there are any messages waiting for you. Login
instructions may have been included with the admissions packet.
If you are worried, or if you have not received the financial aid
award letter by mid-April, call the college's financial aid office to
ask when you should expect to receive the financial aid award
letter. Some colleges will include this date in a financial aid
timeline on the college's web site.
After you receive the financial aid award letter, check whether you
have to return a signed copy to the financial aid office. Some
colleges require you to sign and return the letter within a week or
two to accept the financial aid offer. Others do not.
Evaluate the financial aid award letters by calculating the
out-of-pocket cost for each college. This is the difference between
the full cost of attendance and the gift aid (e.g., grants,
scholarships, tuition waivers and housing waivers). Be sure that the
cost of attendance figure is complete and that the various allowances
for textbooks and travel are reasonable. The out-of-pocket cost is the
amount you will have to pay or borrow to send your child to the
college. It is an accurate measure of your bottom line cost and a good
basis for comparing college costs among different colleges.
Students who are wait-listed may have to wait until after the May 1
reply date to hear about offers of admission and financial aid.
You must reapply for financial aid every year. In subsequent years
the financial aid award letter may come later because there is less
pressure to make a decision by the admissions deadline.