5 Questions to Ask the Financial Aid Office as You Head Back to School

Time to hang up the bathing suits and hit the books: It’s back-to-school season!

Back to School LogoFor many of you, it’s probably been months since you’ve completed the FAFSA or submitted your school’s financial aid application. Have you checked in with the financial aid office to make sure they have everything they need to disburse your financial aid? If not, here are some questions you should ask:

  • What do I need to do to finalize my award? Each school has a different process for awarding and disbursing financial aid. If it has been a while since you contacted the financial aid office, stop by or give them a call.  Often times, there are requirements you must meet before your financial aid can be paid out. Maybe you need to sign a Master Promissory Note or complete Entrance Counseling? Check with your school’s financial aid office as soon as possible so that you can be sure you receive your financial aid on time.
  • What academic requirements do I need to maintain in order to receive financial aid? In general, you need to make satisfactory academic progress. Each school has a satisfactory academic progress policy for financial aid purposes; check your school’s website or ask someone at your financial aid office to find out what the requirements are.
  • What are the terms of any loans offered? If you were offered student loans as part of your financial aid package, it is important that you understand the terms of those loans. Remember, a student loan is just like any other loan. It’s borrowed money that will have to be repaid with interest. Do you know what your interest rate is or when you are supposed to begin repayment? If not, ask. To help you keep track, try out our new Financial Aid Counseling Tool (FACT).
  • Where can I find a work-study job? Federal Work-Study provides part-time jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need, allowing them to earn money to help pay education expenses. Federal Work-Study is unique in that it is a type of financial aid that is not applied directly to your school costs. Instead, you earn the money as you work.  In order to earn the money that has been allocated to you, you’ll need to find a work-study job. Talk to the financial aid office to find out what types of federal work-study jobs are available for students at your school.
  • How and when will I receive my financial aid payments? The million-dollar question. Every school has a different process for disbursing financial aid. You can probably find the answer on your school’s financial aid website, but if not, contact the financial aid office and they should be able to help you out.

Nicole Callahan is a new media specialist in ED’s office of Federal Student Aid 


  1. The first step to financial aid is understanding the requirements and processes.

    Secondly, meet the financial aid office deadlines which are typically 4 months prior to the semester start at traditional 4 year and 2 year schools.

    Third, respond in a timely manner to additional information requests.

    Finally, if you are not getting an interactive response with the financial aid office within 3-5 weeks of submitting information…please kindly follow up.

    Certain times of year the financial aid office manages more volume than others, please respect the amount of time requried to process paperwork at large universities and colleges, you are not the only one applying for Federal Financial Aid.

  2. How many financial aid offices make appointments with students prior to enrollment to discuss how financial aid is awarded, disbursed and repaid? Is everything done online now? How do we know we are speaking with someone with extensive experience when making a call to the financial aid department or if it is a student worker answering questions? Do we truly practice the best customer service to the purchaser of this eduction??? Financial Aid Officers are customer service employees.. yet there is often a wall between the customer “student” and the school “business”. Just like “video killed the radio star”…internet killed the “financial aid appointment”.

  3. The student should first read, and read for understanding, any and all information that was enclosed or attached to their award notification before they come in, call, or e-mail. This saves a lot of headaches for all concerned.

    We send out information on the student loans and how to complete Entrance Counseling and sign the MPN on-line, as well as SAP requirements with our award letters. Often we find that students fail to read beyond the fact that they “didn’t get any financial aid”, i.e. they received student loans and not grants.

Comments are closed.