Paying For College? Here’s The Timeline Of Key Deadlines (2024)

The process of paying for college can feel complicated, overwhelming, stressful, or even all of the above. Unfortunately, this often is true long after you figure out where you're going to school and what your out-of-pocket expenses will be.

Students typically start the process by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid once it opens for the upcoming academic year. This typically happens on October 1 of the previous year before a new academic year begins. But the FAFSA opened late for the 2024-25 academic year.

Ideally, you will have filled out the FAFSA several months ago at this point regardless, and potentially even compared financial aid award letters and settled on a school. From here, there are a range of steps to follow, and due dates to note that start during summer and continue into the second half of the academic year.

But when are all the payments due for college? And, how do you deal with factors like 529 plan distributions and college payment plans? I reached out to several different higher education experts for details on this college payment timeline.

May-June: Your Enrollment Deposit Is Due

The first annual payment for higher education takes place in May (typically on the 1st), and this payment comes in the form of an enrollment deposit. However, this year, schools have delayed it to June in some instances, due to the FAFSA delays.


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Paul Dieken, Ed.D., who serves as director of financial aid at Pomona College in Claremont, California, says this deposit secures or holds your place in the incoming class.

While this enrollment deposit is typically mandatory, you may have some wiggle room if you're paying late or struggling to come up with the money.

"Check with the admissions office of the college you are committing to in order to ask about waiving the deposit or getting an extension," says Dieken.

Outside of that, you should strive to abide by any deadlines the admissions office sets. If you're unsure what the deadline is or if it has passed, you should reach out to your school's financial aid office.

July: Finalize Your Student Loans

By July of each year, college students and their families should have compared student loan options and decided whether they want (or need) to borrow for school. Families should explore federal student aid first since these loans come with fixed interest rates and qualify for protections like deferment and forbearance.

Federal loans are also eligible for income-driven repayment plans — for example, the new Saving On a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan — which let students pay back amounts they borrow with low monthly payments (or potentially $0 payments) based on their income and family size.

Dieken also pointed out that it's not uncommon for students to have multiple types of loans in their financial aid package. As a result, you'll want to make sure you understand the procedure for all of the loans you are borrowing.

If you find you're short on federal student aid to cover college tuition and fees and you don't have any savings to fill the gap, you can turn to private student loans.

While there is no specific deadline for student loans, you should plan on finalizing them in July since you'll want to have the money lined up before the first college payment is due in August.

August: Your First Payment Is Due

The first payment for a college academic year typically falls in August, although schools may have their own unique deadlines that are earlier or later. Quarter system schools may not have a deadline until September.

Dieken says most colleges will require you to settle your bill before you can start classes. Not paying your bill on time can also result in being dropped from your classes. So, make sure to pay attention to deadlines that apply.

Remember that some payments, like students loans or some scholarships, may be sent directly to your school.

Most scholarships and grants also result in money being directly sent to your school and deducted from your account balance. However, you may want to request scholarship funds be sent directly to you in order to reduce the chances of scholarship displacement.

For the most part, the August due date and subsequent payment due dates are for cash you are bringing to the table and paying to the school directly. This includes money you're using from savings to pay for college, or even distributions you plan to take from a 529 college savings account.

January: Your Second Payment Is Due

The second payment for an academic year is usually due in January, and this check covers remaining higher education expenses that apply until students are out for the summer. The second payment may also be made on your behalf automatically if you're paying for college with student loans, scholarships, grants or a combination of these options.

If you are paying part of your higher education expenses with your own funds, the second half of the year's payment will be due at this time.

Considerations With 529 Plans

To pay for college, 529 savings plans can be helpful since they let funds grow tax-free over time, and families can take tax-free distributions to cover eligible higher education expenses. Some states even offer tax incentives for contributions to 529 college savings plans.

Bill Townsend, CEO of College Rover, says you can begin withdrawing funds from these accounts as soon as you have higher education expenses to pay for. For example, you can wait until a few weeks before the August payment for college is due, initiate a withdrawal to cover your out-of-pocket expenses, receive the funds in your bank account, and then forward the money onto your college or university.

"Many families will withdraw lump sums each semester to cover costs," says Townsend.

All this being said, you'll want to avoid taking more money than you need and triggering tax issues. Fortunately, most 529 savings plans let you take withdrawals in smaller amounts as needed with transfers taking place in a matter of days.

With a 529 plan from Fidelity, for example, money withdrawn can be in your account and ready to use within two to four business days after you initiate a withdrawal.

And remember, for tax purposes, the money you withdraw from a 529 plan must be used in the same calendar year as the expense. This can prove challenging for the January payment.

What About College Payment Plans?

Some colleges and universities also offer payment plans that would take place of the payment timeline outlined above. These payment plans typically require families to make five or six installments per semester, usually for a small enrollment fee.

Townsend says families should speak with the schools' financial aid office to inquire about payment plans, and to keep communication open in the event family circ*mstances change.

"Colleges need and want to keep students enrolled and typically will try and work with families that have issues," he says.

Dieken adds that there are very few downsides to college payment plans as long as you can make the monthly payments. The biggest downside is that some payment plans will charge a service fee or require tuition insurance, which could increase your overall costs by as much as 10%.

It's crucial to make sure you can afford the payments before you go this route since not keeping up could result in you being required to pay the full remaining balance immediately to remain in class.

If you're not entirely sure you can meet the payment requirements for a full school year, Dieken says you should look at borrowing the money with student loans instead.

Paying For College? Here’s The Timeline Of Key Deadlines (2024)


Why is it a bad idea to wait until June 30th of an academic year to file the FAFSA? ›

Each academic year, the deadlines for FAFSA remain relatively similar: Applications open on October 1 and close on June 30. Even with that window, it's a good idea to submit your FAFSA as early as possible because many schools distribute funding on a first-come, first-served basis.

When it comes to paying for college the first option you should consider? ›

It's important to first research how you can pay for college without loans. But if you need additional assistance, it's generally best to apply for grants, scholarships, and then federal student loans before private loans. Any of these options can be used along with funds from independent higher education savings or a.

When should I fill out FAFSA for fall 2024? ›

The 2024–25 FAFSA® form will launch in December 2023.

That's right—the FAFSA form will launch by Dec. 31, 2023. The federal deadline to submit the 2024–25 FAFSA form will be June 30, 2025. Some states and colleges have their own deadlines for financial aid, so check for updates at

When it comes to paying for college your first option should be? ›

1. Fill out the FAFSA. Filling out and submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) might be the most important step you can take toward paying for college. By completing this form, you can learn which types of federal aid you're eligible for.

What happens if you don't fill out the FAFSA by priority deadline? ›

Some states and schools continue to award aid to FAFSA latecomers, but your chances get much slimmer, and the aid is often lower. You may still be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant. If you miss the June 30 federal deadline, you're no longer eligible to submit that year's FAFSA form.

Should I fill out FAFSA if I have high income? ›

Even some merit-based scholarships offered by colleges and universities require applicants to file the FAFSA. Thus, many college planning experts recommend that students from higher-income households also fill out the FAFSA (or, if your college instructs you, the CSS Financial Aid Profile form).

What is the most common way students pay for college? ›

Continue the search for grants and scholarships

The College Ave survey found that the No. 1 way families pay for college is through merit aid grants and scholarships.

Should I pay tuition before financial aid? ›

Typically, the school first applies your grant or loan money toward your tuition, fees, and (if you live on campus) room and board.

What is the income limit for FAFSA 2024? ›

What Are the FAFSA Income Limits for 2024? Both students and their parents often think their household income makes them ineligible for financial aid. However, there's no income limit for the FAFSA, and the U.S. Department of Education does not have an income cap for federal financial aid.

Do both parents have to fill out FAFSA 2024-25? ›

If your (the student's) parents are married, remarried, or unmarried and living together, you must invite at least one parent as a contributor with the option to invite the other parent as well. If you only invite one parent, that person will be the parent contributor on your FAFSA form.

What is the maximum Pell grant for 2024-25? ›

The maximum Pell Grant award for the 2024-25 academic year is $7,395. Some students can qualify for more than $7,395 in Pell Grants each year through Year-Round Pell.

How do middle class families pay for college? ›

Financial aid can come from federal and state governments, colleges, and private organizations. Some help comes in the form of loans, which have to be paid back. Grants, scholarships and work-study programs do not have to be repaid. Broadly, there are two types of financial aid: need-based and merit.

What is the first step in paying for college? ›

The first step to paying for college is to fill out the Free Application of Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While the funds are distributed by the federal government, both public and private nonprofit colleges use the FAFSA to offer and distribute financial aid opportunities to students.

When it comes to paying for college, the first option you should consider is? ›

The first option to consider when paying for college is scholarships and grants. Scholarships are typically awarded based on academic, athletic, or artistic achievements, while grants are need-based. These forms of financial aid do not need to be repaid, making them an excellent option for reducing college expenses.

Is it too late to apply to college in June? ›

Hundreds of schools have application deadlines extending into June, July, or August. Most of them with later deadlines are not as competitive, but they're still excellent schools.

When should you first file the FAFSA? ›

When Should You File Your FAFSA? Students and their families should file the FAFSA form as soon as possible on or after October 1 of the year before they go to school.

Is it bad to wait a year before going to college? ›

For many students, a gap year offers the opportunity to gain skills and experiences while also providing time to reflect and focus on what they want to do next. “The gap year can be a great time to not only find yourself and try something new, but also prepare for college,” Giunta said.

What is a priority deadline and why is it important? ›

What is a priority deadline? A school's priority deadline is the deadline you must apply by in order to guarantee a chance of your application being reviewed. It can also be used to give priority to things like student housing, program spots, and financial aid.


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