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How do I accept financial aid?

    Congratulations on being awarded financial aid. Hopefully, you can now worry less about affording college and focus more on your education.

    It’s important to remember that just receiving a financial aid award letter isn’t the same as accepting financial aid, though. After you receive an offer of financial aid, you need to follow the instructions carefully in your offer letter to accept your financial aid.

    Read on as we answer questions you may have about this process.

    How do I accept financial aid?

    Before accepting any financial aid, you should understand the terms and conditions. A big part of doing this correctly is understanding the different types of aid, including:

    • Scholarships
    • Grants
    • Work-study aid
    • Federal, state, private lender, or college loans

    The process for accepting aid varies, depending on the type of aid and who’s issuing it. Reading and following the directions you receive with your aid offer is essential.

    In many cases, you’ll log on to your school’s website using your student ID and accept your aid through your online student account. Ensure the aid amount is correct before agreeing to the terms and submitting your online form.

    Some providers of aid still prefer physical forms to be submitted by mail. If your aid offer arrives in the mail, you’ll often have to sign the paperwork and then send your completed form to your school. Allow enough time to make sure your acceptance arrives before your school’s deadline.

    How do I accept student loans?

    Some aid offers include loans that require repayment, usually with interest. Processes for accepting loans vary, depending on the loan type. You can expect the process to involve a few extra steps, though.

    You’ll often need to sign a promissory note to confirm you’ll repay the student loan and any interest it accrues. The promissory note will spell out the loan’s terms, so read it carefully. Your school’s financial aid office can guide you through the process and help answer any questions. You might sign a paper promissory note or complete one online, depending on your school's requirements.

    You may also have to complete entrance counseling depending on your loan type and whether you have previously received a loan. You can check with the financial aid office at your school to confirm their entrance counseling requirements.

    Common FAQs about accepting financial aid

    Is there financial aid that I should accept first?

    The general rule for this is as follows:

    1. Accept free money first (e.g., scholarships, grants)
    2. Accept earned money second (e.g., work-study)
    3. Accept borrowed money last (e.g., student loans)

    Let’s say you have enough scholarship offers that you don’t need to accept student loans – accepting scholarship offers before any loans will help you accept the aid that’s the most advantageous first.

    When is the last day to accept financial aid?

    When your school sends your financial aid package, they’ll indicate how much time you have to accept the financial aid, so keep your eyes peeled for that deadline.

    Do I have to accept all the financial aid I’m offered?

    You don’t need to accept the entire amount offered in your financial aid package. For some students, this means accepting fewer loans than they’re offered, as that’s money that has to be paid back, usually with interest.

    Perhaps you’ve decided to live at home, so your expenses won’t be as high as your school estimates. You can ask for a smaller loan amount or decline a loan offer altogether. Other students might decline the federal work-study they’re offered if they don’t think their schedule will allow for it, as another example.

    Speak to your school’s financial aid office to learn how to adjust your loan amount or if you have questions about declining specific financial aid offerings.

    I accepted my financial aid, now what?

    Once you’ve accepted your financial aid offer, you’ll have to wait for your college’s financial aid office to disburse the funds. Any accepted funds will first be applied to your tuition, fees, room and board, and other college charges. Any remaining funds will be distributed to you via your college’s financial aid office. Remember, these funds must be used according to their terms, which typically require that they only be used for educational expenses.

    Can I ask for more financial aid after acceptance?

    Asking for more financial aid involves going through a formal appeal process with your school, known as a professional judgment or special circumstances review. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office to see how to request a review and potentially receive more financial aid.

    Can I decline financial aid after accepting it?

    If you’ve accepted financial aid from a college but need to decline it due to certain circumstances, reach out to your school’s financial aid office immediately to see what next steps to follow.

    Final thoughts

    Financial aid can ease your money worries when you’re attending college. You must read the instructions that come with your aid offer and follow them carefully to accept the aid successfully.