Financial Aid Timeline

Many college students need some type of financial aid. Use the timeline below to follow key steps in the financial aid process. As a general rule, you should start your financial aid planning a year in advance.

If you’re a junior or senior in high school, a great resource for you is our College Planning Calendar. It is a month by month guide to help you prepare for all aspects of college life!

Another great resource is our Financial Aid Glossary, this will help you understand all of the terms you will see and hear through the college planning process.

Key steps in the financial aid process:

Fall prior to College attendance (1 year out)

  • Estimate costs of attending college next year.
  • Apply for your FAFSA Personal Identification Number (PIN)at to receive your PIN in time to complete the FAFSA in January. If you're a dependent student, your parent will also need a PIN.
  • Start a financial aid folder to keep track of all your paperwork.
  • Search for scholarships and grants
  • Check all application and financial aid deadlines for your college of choice and any application deadlines for scholarships/grants you’ve identified.


  • Complete the FAFSA as early as possible. You can file the FAFSA online at We strongly recommend checking with your college’s financial aid office to make sure you meet their deadlines and any state deadlines.
  • Complete any other financial aid applications that may be required by your colleges.
  • Anticipate receiving the Student Aid Report (SAR) by email or mail. Review the SAR, make any corrections and return it to the FAFSA processor.
  • Expect an award letter from your college. Once you’ve completed the FASFA and provided any other required documentation to the college’s financial aid office, you will receive an award letter from your college, listing what aid you will receive. Typically, award letters are sent to the student in April.
  • Contact the Financial Aid Office at your college to make sure they have everything they need for your application.


  • Review acceptance letters and financial aid offers from the colleges that have accepted you; make your decision and notify the college.
  • Respond to each offer and either accept, reduce (if you want to accept only a portion of the aid offered) or deny the offer (if you've decided on another college).
  • Contact the Financial Aid Office of the college you plan to attend, to find out about any deposits and deadlines.
  • Explore your options to supplement your financial aid, if needed, to cover all the costs associated with college.
  • Complete the appropriate Master Promissory Note (MPN) for your loan type (Stafford, Parent PLUS or Graduate PLUS) with the federal government.
  • Seek a Private Student Loan, if needed, to help fill the gap after scholarships, grants and federal aid, contact Commerce at 800-666-3910 for more information.

Back to School – Early August

  • Verify with your school that your student loan funds have been disbursed and credited to your account. Your notice of loan guarantee provides you with anticipated disbursement dates and loan amounts. Allow a few days after the anticipated date for the funds to be recorded at your school.
  • Send a thank you card if you received a scholarship or grant.


  • To send an email that contains confidential information, please visit the Secure Message Center where there are additional instructions about whether to use Secure Email or Online Banking messaging.