How Will I Know When I Receive Aid?

After you submit your FAFSA®, your next important question is how you will know when you receive your aid. If you’re getting a grant or loan, it will usually cover a full academic year. Your school will give you the money in at least two payments, called disbursements, which happen once each term. However, you’ll receive each type of aid differently. Here you’ll learn how you’ll receive the different types of aid.

How Will I Know When I Receive My Aid?

Student Loans and Grants

If you’re receiving student loans or grants, your school will usually first apply the money toward your tuition, fees, and room and board if you’re living on campus. Any money you might have remaining after that will go toward your other expenses. 

Some schools will let you decide whether you’d like that left over money paid to you in cash, check, or directly to your bank account. If you receive your loan money and then realize you don’t actually need it, you’re able to cancel the loan within 120 days of disbursement, and you won’t have to pay any fees or interest.

For PLUS loans, payment distribution is similar, however, remaining funds will go to your parents if you are an undergrad student. 

PLUS Loans

PLUS loans are available to graduate students and parents of dependent undergraduate students. Usually, your school will apply the loan money to your school account to pay fees, tuition, room and board, and any other authorized charges. 

If you have money left over after this, your school will likely pay it to your parents by check. However, if they have permission from your parents, you can sometimes get your school to pay the remaining money directly to you.


Work-study is a federally or state-funded program that can help you get a part-time job to cover some of your college expenses. After you fill out the FAFSA®, you’ll get an award letter from your school showing the amount of money you’re eligible to get from grants, loans, and work-study. 

Schools will award work-study funds based on the availability of those funds and the student financial need. Even though your award letter may list a certain amount for work-study, that doesn’t mean you automatically get that money. Instead, you have to find an eligible job and work enough hours to earn that money.

Your school will pay you directly using cash or check unless you request they apply the money to pay for your education-related expenses on your student account, such as room and board, fees, and tuition, or they send the payments directly to your bank account. You’ll get paid at least once a month.

Private Loans

Similarly to federal student loans, private loans are distributed directly to your school. Once you’ve been approved for a private loan, your school will need to certify the loan.  After that, the loan will be scheduled for disbursement to your school.

Your school sets the disbursement date, so the amount of time between when you are approved and when the funds are applied is determined by them. Although, it’s usually around the beginning of the semester. 

If you applied for two semesters at one time, it is likely that half of the disbursement will apply to the first semester and the second half to the second semester. You’ll want to check with your school to be sure.

As with federal loans, any leftover money will be given to you by the school. 

Special Circumstances That Delay Payments

There are special circumstances that can slightly delay when you receive your aid. If you’re a first-time borrower and a first-year undergraduate student, it might be 30 days after the first day of your semester before you get your first disbursement. 

Additionally, if you’re a first-time borrower and getting a Direct Unsubsidized Loan or Direct Subsidized Loan, you have to finish entrance counseling before you can get your first loan disbursement.

With this information, you now know when you will receive your aid, and you’re prepared for any delays that might affect your disbursements.