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From FAFSA Submission to Financial Aid Award Letters: What to Expect

Graduation Cap, Coins and Financial Aid Sign

Make Sure You Filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).

Along with submitting your college applications, you should have completed the FAFSA.

While filing the FAFSA, you were asked to list specific schools on your application. That school list is important. The U.S. Department of Education will only share your FAFSA information with the schools you have listed.

The FASFA isn’t only used to determine federal financial aid. It is also used by states and many schools to award state and institutional aid. Many schools participate in federal financial aid, but they can only award you those funds if you completed the FAFSA.

What if your school list has changed since you filed the FAFSA?

If there is a school you forgot to list, or there is a school you decided to apply to after you completed the FAFSA, don’t worry! It’s not uncommon for students to add or remove a school after they’ve filed the FAFSA. It’s important to update your school list if you’ve applied to additional schools, because schools need this information to determine your financial aid award.

One thing to double-check with your school list—did you list them in the correct order? Although the FAFSA doesn’t have a listing requirements, some states have requirements for state aid eligibility. To see if this is an issue you should be concerned about, double-check your state requirements on the U.S. Department of Education’s site.  If you made a mistake, don’t stress! You will just need to notify your state agency.

Making changes to your FAFSA school list.

Assuming you filed the online FAFSA, you can always log-in to your FAFSA and add or remove schools from your list. And if you’re adding a state school, just keep in mind your state may have an order preference, so you may need to notify your state agency in order to ensure your eligibility for state aid. 

Note: If you filed a paper FAFSA via mail and would like to add a school, visit this page from the U.S. Department of Education to learn how to update your school list.

School acceptance and financial aid award letters.

Chances are you’ve applied to more than one college. When you start to receive acceptance letters, you’ll begin to compare each institution to determine which one is the right fit. The right fit is not only a decision based on the academic opportunities or student life offered by each school, but should also include an evaluation of financial aid awards they are offering, as well as the total cost to attend the schools.

Schools will include your financial aid award letter for your first academic year with their acceptance package, or send it shortly thereafter. Each school will send you an award letter based on their tuition, fees, and your financial aid. Each school’s award will be different so do not assume that they will all be the same.

Some takeaways and things to consider while reviewing your financial aid award letter.

  1. If you are accepted into a school and do not receive a financial aid award letter, confirm that you listed the school on your FAFSA. If you did not, make sure to update your application.
  2. If you are accepted into a school that is listed on your FAFSA and you do not receive a financial aid award letter, or your award letter doesn’t include federal student aid (like Federal Pell Grants or Federal Direct Loans), make sure to reach out to that school’s financial aid office. They can help explain your award package and determine if there are any remaining steps in your financial aid process.  
  3. Don’t assume that financial aid award letters are the same from each school, it is actually likely that each school will have a different financial aid award letter.
  4. Federal financial aid award letters may not be final. Make sure to contact the financial aid office if you need further assistance, or if you’ve had a significant change in your financial status since you completed the FAFSA.
  5. Wait to receive all your award letters before you make a decision about which school is both, the best academic, and the best financial fit for you and your family.