With college financial aid season in full swing, it’s likely that you’ve recently submitted your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). So what happens next? Take a look at this financial aid timeline to find out what to expect post-FAFSA.

Off It Goes

Once you hit submit, your FAFSA goes first to the office of Federal Student Aid, where it is processed and your Student Aid Report (SAR) is generated. The SAR is then sent to the schools you listed on the form to do their own number crunching to determine how much student aid to offer you.

The SAR

You will also receive a copy of your SAR within a few days if you filed the FAFSA online (or up to three weeks later if you filed by mail). The SAR is a recap of all the FAFSA data you submitted, giving you a chance to correct any errors. If anything is incorrect or missing, follow the directions for making changes as soon as possible.

The most important item on your SAR is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is a measure of your family’s financial health, and it’s used to help determine your student aid eligibility. This is what the schools will use when putting together a financial aid package offer for you. However, it’s important to note that the EFC is just an estimate and likely typically not the exact amount of money your family will pay for college.

While You’re Waiting

Your financial aid application determines the amount and type of federal student aid you’re eligible for, and to some extent, state aid and institutional grants and scholarships. There are, however, other funding opportunities that you can pursue to help offset the cost of college, including outside grants and scholarships.

Students can qualify for outside grants and scholarships for a wide range of reasons (e.g., financial need, academic achievements, athletic skills, community service, religious affiliation, artistic talent). By doing some scholarship sleuthing, you can find those that are the best match for you.

Verification Time

Some students may have to go through a process called verification after filing the FAFSA. Essentially, it’s when a school asks you to confirm data that you reported. You may be required to submit copies of a tax return, for instance. This is standard operating procedure, so it’s nothing to worry over. It’s an extra step for you, but it’s usually a simple upload or form to return by mail. The key here is to comply as quickly as possible so you don’t hold up the financial aid decision.

Financial Aid Award Letters 

Finally, here comes the big reveal! When you receive your financial aid award letters from the schools that accepted you, you’ll get a breakdown of just how much aid you’ve qualified for and how much you’re expected to pay. Most award letters go out in early-to-mid April, but the timing will depend on the school’s admissions deadline.

If you have been accepted to multiple schools, you can compare financial aid packages to see which school is offering you the best deal. Each school’s financial aid offer will vary, and you have the opportunity to appeal your award amount if your financial situation changes since completing the FAFSA.

Getting through the financial aid process can be stressful, but it’s worth it since most people qualify for some aid. By submitting your forms on time and responding to additional requests for information quickly, your financial aid award letters will start rolling in. Then the real work begins: making the final college decision

FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover Student Loans.