‘It Depends’: Responding to Common Financial Aid Questions


Students, parents, and guardians regularly ask questions about the financial aid process. Those questions begin as families work to complete the FAFSA for the first time and continue for the entire time a student is enrolled in college. Then, after graduation, students routinely seek advice as they check on upcoming student loan payments and may have new questions about graduate or professional school funding.

Although each student’s situation is unique, knowing how to respond to common financial aid questions can help you effectively advise the students you serve. Questions involving application status and refund status are very common, and the answers are rarely cut-and-dry. But even if you can’t offer students a firm “yes” or “no” — providing information specific to their situation can help ease confusion, as illustrated in the examples below.  

Checking on Application Status

Student: What am I required to turn in for my financial aid application to be complete?

Your Response: Outline what is required to have a complete financial aid file and emphasize that the application will not be reviewed until those items are received.

Student: OK, when I turn all of this in, I’m done, right?

Your Response:  Remind the student the file has to be reviewed. Outline the appropriate timeline from the pertinent financial aid office or scholarship program to provide an answer of when students can  expect to know whether they have been offered an award or deemed not qualified for the funding involved.

Student: I’m just checking in to see if you have everything that you need for my application.   

Your Response: Check the student’s file status; provide an update on where they are in the application process and what will take place next.

Student: Am I now done?

Your Response: Depending upon the student’s file situation, provide a specific and detailed answer about where they stand, and any next steps involved.

Refund Status

Student: I heard that refund checks are going out next week. Is this true?

Your Response: Review the student’s account to see if their account qualifies for a refund and then provide the correct answer.

Student: My friend received a refund check so I’m calling to check on when mine will be disbursed.

Your Response: Let the student know that each student’s financial aid is different. Review their account and then give them an update on their situation.

Student: So, I am getting a direct deposit by this Friday?

Your Response: Outline the established timeline for funds to be released to student bank accounts and the number of days the banks have to process the funds. Ask the student to check with their bank for more details.

Student: OK, it sounds like I will be getting the money this weekend, right?

Your Response: Remind the student about the entire disbursement process. Outline the school’s role and how their bank makes the decision involving when to make funds available.

As you can see, none of the answers are yes or no because the real answer is: It depends. Communicating with students in this manner cuts down on miscommunication and ensures they stay engaged and informed throughout the financial aid process.

Kenneth McGhee is the director of the DC Tuition Assistance Grant Program (DCTAG) within the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) in Washington, DC. OSSE is a NACAC member organization.