Receiving Financial Aid

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

Receiving Financial Aid

You’ve told your school which financial aid you want to accept. Learn about when and how you will receive the aid.

When You’ll Receive Your Financial Aid

The type of aid you accepted affects when you’ll get your aid.

Grants and Student Loans

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

Note: 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.

The following may apply if you haven’t taken out a federal student loan before:

  • 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.) before your school is allowed to give you your loan money. Check with your school to see whether this rule applies.
  • If you’re a first-time borrower of a Direct Subsidized Loan or a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, you must complete entrance counseling before your school can give you your loan money.
  • If you are a graduate or professional student taking out a Direct PLUS Loan for the first time, you must complete entrance counseling before you receive your first loan disbursement. Note: Counseling isn’t required if you’re a parent taking out a Direct PLUS Loan to help pay for your child’s education.


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 expected, contact your school. The financial aid office can explain how your aid was determined.

How You’ll Receive Your Financial Aid

How you’ll get your aid depends on the type of aid you accepted.

Grants and Student Loans

Typically, the school 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 directly for other education expenses.

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


Your school must pay you directly unless you request that the school

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

Direct PLUS Loans for Parents

In most cases, your child’s school will give you 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. In some cases, with your permission, the school may give the leftover money to your child.

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

Paying for Textbooks and Other Course Materials If You Haven’t Received Your Financial Aid

Schools that participate in federal student aid programs must provide a way for you to obtain your books and supplies by the seventh day of the term if

  • you are eligible for disbursement (i.e., the payment of your financial aid) 10 days before the term begins and
  • you will have a credit balance (i.e., money left over) after your financial aid is applied to your tuition, fees, and other school charges as applicable.

Your school can tell you if the above criteria apply to you.

How Your School Gets Your Financial Aid Funds to You for Course Materials

You should ask your financial aid office about this because it varies from school to school. For example, if the school offers a bookstore voucher or other means for students to receive their books and supplies through the school or its bookstore, you could obtain your materials that way.

When your school gives you financial aid, sometimes money is left over after your aid is applied to your tuition, fees, and other school charges. This remaining amount is called a credit balance. If you have a credit balance, your school must pay this amount to you directly within 14 days unless you authorize the school to keep the money to pay for future institutional charges.

The amount the school is required to provide is either the amount of your credit balance or the amount needed for books and supplies (as determined by your school), whichever is less. Your school can tell you if this applies to you.

Even if the school’s preferred arrangement is to provide vouchers or other means for you to get your course materials through the school or its bookstore, the school must provide you the opportunity to opt out, receive a check from the school, and obtain the books and supplies on your own unless one of the following exceptions applies:

  • The school can demonstrate a compelling health and safety reason for obtaining the materials through the institution or its supplier.
  • The school can demonstrate that the materials are not currently available elsewhere or accessible to students via other means.

Saving Money on Textbooks and Course Materials

Depending on what materials are available at your school and for your courses, you may have several lower-cost options to obtain your books:

  • If your course uses a hard-copy textbook, consider buying a used copy or renting your textbook from a bookstore or online.
  • If you purchase your textbook, consider reselling that textbook, if allowed, when you are done with the course.
  • Even with new textbooks, you may be able to save money by shopping around.
  • Some schools use open-access texts and online content to offer students further savings over hard-copy textbooks. Open-access texts are available for free.
  • If your course uses paid online content, your school may have negotiated a deal with the publisher that will allow you online access at a fraction of the cost you would pay for a physical book. The paid online content may also come with study tools and other content in addition to the textbook.

Your options for course material formats will vary by school, instructor, and course, so learning what your options are and knowing about any cost-reduction initiatives your school may have can result in significant savings.

A Note About ISBNs

Your school must publish the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for each course text in the online course schedule entry if the ISBN is available. The ISBN identifies the specific edition of the book that’s required for your class and helps you be sure you’re obtaining the right book when you search for it. If an ISBN is unavailable, the school should provide the author, title, publisher, and copyright date.