Financial aid award letters from colleges and universities detail an individual student's costs of attendance and the financial assistance offered, based on the student's situation and completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students may be awarded a Pell Grant, which is money they don't have to pay back. When students accept this award, their school processes the grant for them and applies it to their student account. The grant money is first applied to eligible expenses owed to the school. Any residual award money is disbursed to the student to help pay for other eligible expenses, such as books, equipment, and housing expenses.
Review the School Financial Aid Policy
Check your school's policy on when financial aid money will be released to students so you have a general idea of when to expect a refund. Check your school's policy on its financial aid website or by calling the financial aid office directly. Schools have a standard policy for how and when federal money they have awarded students is processed. The quickest way to receive your residual financial aid money is to set up direct deposit.
Take Advantage of Online Banking
Access your banks's online portal to see if you have received a direct deposit from your school. You can also check your bank account to see if you have a pending direct deposit. A direct deposit can take several days to reach your bank account after it is initiated.
Talk to a Financial Aid Advisor
Call or email your school's financial aid office and ask when and where you will receive a paper check for residual financial aid being processed without direct deposit. Many schools hand out residual funds by paper check at the school's cashier window or office. If this is the case at your school, go to the cashier and wait in line for your refund check.
Look at Your Student Account
Log in to your student account and view your financial aid information if you're expecting a refund and haven't received it. You can also call your school and talk to the billing office (or student accounts office) to access the same information. Verify that your Pell Grant has been credited to your student account, confirm the amount was correct and confirm that there is a residual balance owed to you.
It is important to note that many schools release financial aid money to students' accounts a week or more before refunds are issued. Students can prevent delays in refunds by taking a proactive approach and making sure the funds are applied to their account when expected. If a discrepancy is noted at this point, notify the school's financial aid office.
Look into Your Student Records
Inquire about your student records, either by phone or online, to find out whether or not a refund has been requested on your account. If your account has a balance owed to you and you don't see a pending refund, call or email your school's billing (or student accounts) office and request the refund be made to you. There may have been an error that caused the refund not to be processed automatically; it may need to be initiated manually.
Check Your Student Card
Some schools have a specific 'student card' that students can put residual refunds on, such as a campus cash card or other campus specific card that students use to pay for things. You may be able to specify an amount to apply to this card, or ask that no money be applied to the card. Ask your financial aid office or student account / billing office if you don't know whether your school has such a feature, or have questions about it.
Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.