Financial Aid Timeline: Know What to Do and When

The financial aid process can be a bit daunting. Different forms of aid have different formalities, eligibility requirements, and deadlines. The key to benefiting from the various financial aid opportunities is to understand and keep track of the requirements and deadlines. Financial aid is typically distributed on a first come first served basis, so the earlier you apply, the higher your chances of getting some much-needed funds to pay for your college tuition.

This timeline will help you create a schedule to increase your chances of receiving financial aid and avoid missing any deadlines during your senior year of high school and beyond.

College Financial Aid Timeline

October 1st: Complete the FAFSA

Knowing important financial aid deadlines can help students maximize their awards.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) comes available on October 1st every year. It is important to complete it as soon as possible, and especially by January 1st. The FAFSA isn’t only for federal financial aid like federal student loans and the Pell Grant, but schools and states actually use the application to determine grant eligibility and financial aid packages.

Delaying too long on your FAFSA can cause you to miss out on thousands of dollars and even a potentially free ride to college. Wait too long and the only offer you’ll receive is federal student loans.

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 March-April: Receive and Compare Your Financial Aid Letters

Financial aid offer letters usually come with Regular Decision acceptance letters. If you applied under Early Action or Early Decision, you will have to wait until March or April to receive these letters, too.

Every financial aid offer letter is different, which can make it confusing to see how much a school is offering. Determining the best deal may not be as easy as you’d expect it to be. Comparing them is essential to see which school is offering the most money.


If your financial aid package isn’t enough to attend the college or your financial situation has changed in recent months, you should consider appealing the aid as soon as possible. Some schools will bump up your package if you just ask!

Before May 1st: Submit Your Deposit and Accept Financial Aid

 Financial aid packages from colleges can and do run out. If you’re accepting a financial aid package, it’s important to let the school know as soon as possible. However, most colleges and universities require you to make your decision on whether or not to attend by May 1st. You will also need to submit your deposit by this date in order to secure your spot.

August-September: Pay Tuition and College Costs

Colleges require you to pay tuition and other college related costs such as room and board before you start classes. Students should submit their payments as soon as they can to avoid potential problems when registering for courses. Many scholarships will send the money straight to the college, but some awards will hand it to the student. Make sure you understand how the money will be distributed to avoid any hold ups.

Year Round: Complete Scholarship and Grant Applications

Scholarships and grants don’t have any one single due date, but are actually scattered throughout the year. Most will align between October and May, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Use scholarship databases to determine which awards you qualify for and use a planner or calendar to track deadlines. Also check your state’s college grants to see if you’re eligible for any of them.

Tips for Receiving and Increasing Your Financial Aid

Financial aid can help lower the cost of college tuition and debt after graduation. To increase your chances of receiving financial aid including scholarships and grants, we recommend

  • Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible
  • Apply to as many scholarships as you can
  • Use College Raptor’s Scholarship Search Tool to find awards you qualify for.
  • Check out your college’s state grants availability and eligibility requirements
  • Appeal your financial aid letters if you feel it isn’t enough
  • Answer questions on applications including the FAFSA honestly and truthfully; lying or making mistakes can result in serious consequences
  • Maintain your GPA to maintain eligibility for grants and scholarships
  • Reach out to your financial aid department with any questions or concerns as soon as they arise
  • Use College Raptor’s Financial Aid Offer Comparison Tool to compare financial aid letters and identify the best deals

Missing deadlines when it comes to financial aid can result in the loss of free money when attending college. By noting these dates and completing your paperwork as soon as possible, you could find yourself the recipient of grants, scholarships, and loans that help make college more affordable.

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