Your college or career school—not the U.S. Department of Education—will distribute your financial aid.

How you receive your aid will depend on the type of aid—grants, student loans, work-study, or parent loans.

Receiving Aid

You’ve filled out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSASM), received an award letter from your school, and told the school which financial aid you want to accept. Now what?

When will I receive my financial aid?
How will I receive my financial aid?
     Grants and Student Loans
     Work-Study
     Parent (PLUS) Loans


When will I receive my financial aid?

Generally, your grant or loan will cover a full academic year and your school will disburse (pay out) your money in at least two payments called disbursements. In most cases, your school must pay you at least once per term (semester, trimester, or quarter). Schools that don’t use traditional terms such as semesters or quarters usually must pay you at least twice per academic year—for instance, at the beginning and midpoint of your academic year.  

  • If you’re a parent taking out a Direct PLUS Loan to help pay for your child’s education expenses, your loan funds will be disbursed according to the same type of schedule (usually, at least twice per academic year).
  • If you’re a first-year undergraduate student and a first-time borrower, you may have to wait 30 days after the first day of your enrollment period (semester, trimester, etc.) for your first disbursement. Check with your school to see whether this rule applies there. 
  • If you’re a first-time borrower of a Direct Subsidized Loan or a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, you must complete entrance counseling before you receive your first loan disbursement. Similarly, if you are a graduate or professional student taking out a Direct PLUS Loan for the first time, you must complete entrance counseling before receiving your first disbursement. If you are a parent taking out a Direct PLUS Loan to help pay for your child’s education, you will not be required to participate in entrance counseling.

If you’re going to have a work-study job, you’ll be paid at least once a month.

If you don’t receive the type or amount of financial aid you expect to, contact your school. The financial aid office can explain how your aid was determined.

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How will I receive my financial aid?

It depends on what type of aid you’ll be receiving—grants, student loans, work-study, or parent loans.

Grants and Student Loans

Typically, the college first applies your grant or loan money toward your tuition, fees, and (if you live on campus) room and board. Any money left over is paid to you for other expenses. You might be able to choose whether the leftover money comes to you by check, cash, a credit to your bank account, or another method.

If your loan is disbursed but then you realize that you don’t need the money after all, you may cancel your loan within 120 days of the disbursement, and no interest or fees will be charged.

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Work-Study

Your school must pay you directly (for instance, by cash or check) unless you request that the school

  • send your payments directly to your bank account or
  • use the money to pay for education-related charges (such as tuition, fees, and room and board) on your student account.

Girl with notebook in wheelchair

If you take out a (student or parent) loan, your (or your child’s) school will notify you in writing each time they disburse part of your loan money. At the same time, they will provide information about how to cancel all or part of your disbursement if you find you no longer need the full amount. You also will receive a notice from your loan servicer confirming the disbursement.

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Parent (PLUS) Loans

In most cases, your child's school will disburse your loan money by crediting it to your child's school account to pay tuition, fees, room, board, and other authorized charges. If there is money left over, the school will pay it to you, usually by check. In some cases, with your permission, the school may disburse the leftover money to your child.

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