You might be wondering: what happens after I fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, otherwise known as the FAFSA? This is a common question for families after finishing up financial aid checklists and admissions paperwork. After all the activities involved with writing essays, submitting applications, and finishing senior projects, this portion of the year can be a “dead time” that seems a little out of place. So, what’s the next step?

What happens after the FAFSA?

First, let’s take one step back. An important step that is often overlooked is the school selection portion of the FAFSA (see this post about the FAFSA sections). In other words, you need to double-check you listed your final school list since submitting the application way back in October (or whenever you filled it out). If things have changed, and a school is listed, that college won’t know to consider you for financial aid.

When you submitted the FAFSA, you should have received a confirmation called a Student Aid Report, or SAR. If you didn’t get one of these (to your email if filled out online), this is another issue you need to investigate. There are also might be issues with your FAFSA application highlighted in your SAR, although most times it requires a professional to interpret the codes contained in the report.

What does a school do with my FAFSA application?

At the same time you got your SAR report, the institutions you listed in the FAFSA get your information through an ISIR report. No need to worry about the industry terms here; it’s enough to know that once a school receives your information, it goes about looking for aid for which you qualify.

Keep in mind that each college has a different process and timelines for how quickly this happens. A great thing to do while you’re waiting is to double-check with your school’s financial aid office to ensure you have done everything required to receive financial aid. For example, a common requirement is that you are admitted. After all, the school is not going to send financial aid offers to everyone who applied to the school or listed them on the FAFSA, right?

When Should I Expect to Receive My Financial Aid Offer?

A lot of schools send out financial aid offers soon after admission offers. However, this is not always the case and can vary widely by school. Also, you should realize that many financial aid departments have “busy” seasons, and can be slower to respond to inquiries or send out offers depending on their backlog. Assuming you (or your child) have been admitted, it’s best practice to establish your official email account and access the school’s information system in case the financial aid letter is sent via those channels.

Finally, you should receive a financial aid letter. This is a document that outlines the full cost of the college on an annual or semester-by-semester basis, in addition to the financial aid that is offered to you including grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans.