What to do while waiting for your financial aid award letter to arrive

By Unigo

You’ve poured through tax returns, bank statements, and financial records, filled out the questions, and finally submitted your FAFSA application. While you wait for your award letter to arrive, here are some financially responsible ways to prepare for your next steps.

Discuss finances with your family

If you haven’t already, have an open conversation with your family about your finances and household budget so you know your options when you finally get your federal student aid award letter. Discuss best-case and worst-case scenarios: What if the aid doesn’t cover what you need? Where will you find more money? What portion of tuition can you afford to cover? How much money in federal student loans is your family able to take out? What portion do you estimate college scholarships or grants covering? How much money can you earn if you work a part-time job between now and first semester? Whose name will any student loan debt be in — the student or the parent? Be sure to address budget, on- or off-campus living options, credit history, private and federal student loans, and additional funding sources before receiving your financial aid award letter.

Search for part-time jobs

Saving money before your first semester is a wise precautionary measure in case your financial aid award turns out to be insufficient. By looking into part-time jobs or summer jobs right away, you’ll be more prepared to earn money to cover the gap that may exist between what financial aid you were hoping for and what you actually received.

Apply for scholarships and grants

Before you consider private or federal student loans, you should take advantage of every opportunity to secure grants and scholarships. The sooner you start, the better. There are countless websites that make the scholarship search process easy. Some even have scholarship match tools that find scholarships based on your specific criteria. It’s also a good idea to look for college scholarships in your area, as these often have a smaller applicant pool, increasing your chances of winning. The most important thing is to keep searching and applying for scholarships every month — before and during college.

Apply for the college’s honors program

There are many benefits to being in your school’s honors program:

  • Classes are generally smaller and more academically rewarding
  • You may qualify for merit-based scholarships throughout college
  • Honors students sometimes get more financial aid from the university
  • Having honors credentials on your resume looks good to future employers

Honors program requirements differ between colleges, but they generally require a high GPA, high SAT or ACT scores, or special recommendations.

Prepare a financial aid appeal

If your award letter is a disappointment, and the colleges expect you to cover more than you can afford, then you should consider appealing the award letter. If you or your family’s financial situation changes after you submit the FAFSA, you can appeal your award. Even if you haven’t yet received your award letter, it’s always best to plan ahead. The sooner you send your appeal, the sooner you’ll hear back about your federal student aid, and the sooner you can relax. So, it’s important to have the necessary documents ready and a letter prepared in case you decide to send a financial aid appeal. A few tips for your appeal letter:

  • Have a valid reason to appeal: a significant change in your financial circumstances since filing your FAFSA, such as family illness, divorce, or job loss.
  • Find out who the letter will be going to and use their name. This will make your letter seem more personal and will grab the financial aid officer’s attention.
  • Follow directions for filing the appeal. Each school typically has their own process that students must follow when requesting reconsideration.
  • Attach documents that corroborate your reason for a financial aid appeal (bank statements, tax forms, and letters from relatives).
  • Showcase your personality. Show the people reviewing your letter who you are by giving background about yourself and your plans for the future.

Waiting for your financial aid award letter can be a stressful time, but it doesn’t have to be wasted time.

Next: How to decipher your financial aid award letter