Federal aid is a long affair that can take months from the time you apply through your FAFSA to when you actually get the money promised in your award letter. You may have seen the word “disbursements” thrown around a lot throughout the process. All it means, in this case, is “when the funds are sent to their intended final recipient”. So “disbursement date” is simply when you’ll get the loans and grants promised into your account.
Federal aid, though intended for the student, is first given by the government to the university or institution he or she is enrolled in. The school then transfers that money to the student (or “disburses” it) as they see fit. The entire amount has to be given, but the timeline in which that is done is up to the school. This is intended to ensure students receive the money when they most need it.
That’s why there’s no one-answer to when your aid award money is given, it depends on the school. Most, however, will follow a similar pattern: half at the beginning of each semester. Here is a breakdown of when the different types of aid are disbursed by most schools:
Federal Financial Aid disbursement dates:
Federal Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans:
Students will usually receive their federal loans from their schools twice per academic year, or once per term depending on the school’s calendar system (semester, trimester, quarter, etc). The specific dates depend on the school, but usually, it is given from a few weeks to 60 days after the term begins.
For first time recipients of federal aid, entrance counseling is required to receive the loans. The course offers some guidance on the basics of how to manage your loans and how the whole system of federal aid works. Your aid disbursement may be delayed if you fail to complete the course, so it’s a good idea to get it done ASAP.
Federal PLUS Loans:
Federal PLUS loans are given to the families of the students who are in school. Similar to traditional Stafford loans, they are usually disbursed twice per year or depending on the term structure of each school. They may also line up with tuition payments. People who receive this loan also have to go through entrance counseling to be able to receive the funds.
FSEOG (Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant) and Pell Grants are usually given at the beginning and middle of the school year. The amount and date for each disbursement will depend on your school, but they should add up to the full amount granted by the government at the end of the school year.
Work-study is meant to help students pay for their daily expenses, and as such is given at least every month via paycheck from employers. As the name implies, this is money you receive from a job you have while in school. It has the benefit of not affecting your FAFSA, but there is a max on the amount you can make from the program before it starts to affect how much aid you are eligible for each year.
There are also private and institutional loans and grants as well as scholarships whose disbursement schedules vary widely. Their interest rates, requirements, and whether they are given via the school or directly are also determined on a case-by-case basis.