Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Financial Aid Application Deadlines Work


Understanding Your Financial Aid Package
Once you've met your FAFSA deadline, you're free and clear to focus on the college semester ahead. But don't forget about that renewal process!
Once you've met your FAFSA deadline, you're free and clear to focus on the college semester ahead. But don't forget about that renewal process!

So, you've completed and submitted your FAFSA before the deadline. Now what? Instead of just waiting to hear what type of aid you'll be receiving, it's important to be vigilant and follow up to ensure your FAFSA is received.

The Department of Education recommends checking the status of your application about a week after it's been submitted. If you mailed a paper application or a signature page, you'll need to wait two to three weeks to follow up. If your FAFSA status is "accepted" or "processed," your job is done. If the form is shown as rejected, there will be additional information provided telling you why the form was not accepted. In this situation, you must immediately correct any problems and resubmit your form as soon as possible.

FAFSA processing can take a few weeks or a few months depending on how many forms have been submitted. While you're waiting, head to the FAFSA Web site and make sure you've listed all colleges you may want to attend. Once your FAFSA is processed, the Department of Education uses this list to determine where to send copies of your financial aid package. You can add or delete colleges from this list at any time by visiting the FAFSA Web site.

Once processing is complete, you'll receive a document in the mail known as a Student Aid Report (SAR). The SAR will list all financial aid you have been awarded as well as a number representing your expected family contribution (EFC). You may receive a SAR from each school as well, which indicates a final aid package that includes aid from the college as well as state and federal government sources [source: US Department of Education].

While the EFC may seem intimidating, it's important to understand that this number is a rule of thumb. If you expect to have trouble paying this amount, contact your college, which can often make adjustments to your aid package [source: The College Board].

If you find a mistake in your SAR that needs correcting, visit your college's financial aid office. The office can provide you with the correct forms, which must be submitted to the Department of Education so your FAFSA can be reprocessed.

But what if you've received your aid package and you know it's not enough? Try filling the gaps by getting a part-time job or looking for work-study programs at your school. You can also seek out private loans from banks or student loan companies like Sallie Mae to help bridge the gap between cost and financial aid.