Money Talk: when aid comes too late

Students struggle with long wait times for financial aid refund checks


University students are jokingly broke – it’s a part of college culture. Every little bit helps, but the bit students look forward to the most, tends to come too late to effectively help.

Financial aid clears after the first five weeks into the semester, which means sometimes students have to go without for that length of time, be it with books or living needs. Graduate students get their checks a bit earlier but they have a more intensive workload, which means they fall farther behind.

Undergrads may be surprised to learn that graduate students get their refund checks a week or so before undergrads, but it’s not early enough to make a difference.

Graduate students can typically find themselves a month into the semester going to class or conducting research without the necessary books. For undergrads, who typically wait as long as five weeks for their checks, sacrifices have to be made either in time or in grades.

The reason it takes so long for the refund check to be processed is because the high-level of fragmentation in the student loan industry. This means processing times vary and hit your bill at different times.

On top of this, an institution like UB that would see thousands of students receiving financial aid have their offices overworked during this time of year.

What it all comes down to is bureaucracy.

Ironically instated for efficiency, it usually ends up slowing down whatever system it’s being used for.

Some students might opt to put in some serious work over the summer to pay for their year.

I worked two jobs – helping with the family business and bartending at night – which made 12-hour days a regular occurrence.

For students that do the same, that refund check adds extra money on a lump sum. Financially, I was doing okay, but not everyone has the time to put into work over the summer.

This wait becomes even worse when students living off-campus come dangerously close to their rent payment days before they get theirs – then late fees build and credit is lost, landlord issues can arise and create an uncomfortable relationship.

While working can definitely alleviate semester expenses, it can become another barrier for students in college. Having a job means less time studying or taking classes, which makes it a sacrifice for students to attempt both.

Schools even warn students that due to this fact, they should plan ahead for their expected expenses including textbooks, school supplies, groceries and anything else the average UB attendee may need.

While refund checks can be a pain to wait for, they’re still a better option than private loans, as far as interest rates go, even thought they’ll take a bit longer. When dealing with money, it’s always best to think long-term, saving some portion of your income for the future, both known and unforeseen.

So, like everything else college students are told to plan for, being able to hold out for your financial aid refund check is one more thing to have on the mind.


Twitter: @KenUBSpec

Kenneth Kashif Thomas is the senior features editor and can be reached at Have some questions for him, follow him on Twitter at @KenUBSpec and reach out.