How aid works
We understand that the financial aid process can feel overwhelming. To take some of the stress away and better understand it, review this overview of how aid works (sourced from the Federal Student Aid website).
Financial aid explained
First, prior to each year of college, fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to apply for federal grants, work-study and loans. The information you provide on the FAFSA will help colleges determine your federal aid eligibility. After the colleges you select have reviewed your submission, you’ll receive your Student Aid Report and your award offer from each one if eligibility is determined.
Your aid offer explains the types and amounts of aid the colleges can offer you, as well as your expected costs for the year. If you decide to accept the aid offer from a college, you must inform the school of other sources of aid (such as scholarships) you expect to receive.
The college's financial aid office will then apply your aid to the amount you owe and send you the remaining balance to spend on other college costs. One of the requirements to maintain financial aid eligibility is that you must make satisfactory academic progress.
Aid awards and disbursement
New students admitted for the fall term are offered aid beginning in late March. Returning students are offered aid in mid-June, after the office has checked satisfactory academic progress. Email notifications are sent once aid offers are posted on eServices.
Financial aid amounts may differ from year to year and can be affected by special circumstances. To continue receiving aid, students must file the FAFSA by February 1 of each year.
All federal and state financial aid except for federal work-study is applied directly to student accounts at the beginning of each term, along with most VCU scholarships.
After current charges have been paid, any excess financial aid will be mailed as a check, unless a student sets up Direct Deposit bank authorization to a bank account.
Special aid circumstances
There are several reasons financial aid for the current term does not pass to student accounts, including:
- A student has not registered for enough credit hours. Financial aid awards are based on full-time enrollment for the full year (12 credit hours per semester for undergraduates, nine credit hours per semester for graduates).
- Insufficient credit hours were completed or satisfactory academic progress was not maintained for the previous semester.
- Some or all of the paperwork required for the aid to be disbursed is incomplete, or the Office of Financial Aid has not received necessary paperwork or confirmations from other sources.
Students should contact their financial aid counselor for details about their aid.
Students who received a Pell Grant or direct loan at multiple institutions in the four most recent academic years will have their FAFSA flagged for unusual enrollment history. The financial aid office will be required to review enrollment history to determine whether the student is enrolling only long enough to receive cash refunds of federal student aid.
Students may be asked to provide valid documentation explaining the reason behind their unusual enrollment history. If credit hours were not earned at each institution attended during these award years, students may be ineligible for federal financial aid.
Students who receive a federal Title IV grant or loan assistance and withdraw from VCU before completing 60 percent of the semester must have their eligibility recalculated based on the Federal Return of Title IV Funds formula.
This formula recalculates a student’s eligibility based on the number of days enrolled/attended prior to withdrawal. Any unearned aid must be returned to the appropriate Title IV programs, and the student must pay all or a portion of the funds that were disbursed to their account. They also may be responsible for all or a portion of the charges that were previously paid by financial aid.
If a student does not officially withdraw from all classes but fails to earn a passing grade in at least one course, federal regulations require that we assume the student has “unofficially withdrawn,” unless it can be documented that the student completed the enrollment period. Unofficial withdrawals require a Title IV refund calculation at the midpoint of the enrollment period.
Please visit the VCU Policy Library to see the university's official policy on Title IV Refund (R2T4).
About loan repayment
Repayment of federal Direct and PLUS loans begins six months after graduation or when a student drops below half-time enrollment. The length of repayment and monthly payment amounts depends on the outstanding loan balance, the interest rate and repayment policies.
Perkins loans and alternative loans through private lenders have separate repayment policies.