Financial aid refunds now available before start of academic year

Mariana Alfaro, Development and Recruitment Editor

Students receiving financial aid can now receive a cash advance from their financial aid packages before classes begin in an effort by the University’s Financial Aid Office to ease the transition between the end of the summer and the beginning of the academic year.

Before, students who received financial aid for books, supplies, rent and food could only receive it once the academic year started. Now they can claim up to $500 in an advance refund a few days before classes start to cover these expenses.

“Northwestern has a goal of trying to bring in more low-income students to the undergraduate student population and, as we are having some success with that, it occurred to us that these students should have any funds that they’re due in their hands as they arrive on campus so they’re not at a disadvantage,” said Michael Mills, associate provost for university enrollment.

This new policy was made available starting this year, however, its launch posed certain technical issues for both the Financial Aid Office and new students.

“In CAESAR, you have to be registered as a full-time student in order for your aid to disburse and new freshmen … all registered on this Friday,” Mills said. “So we had to come up with some creative ways to try to fool the system into thinking the kids were registered full time.”

Communication senior Amanda Walsh, president of NU’s Quest Scholars Network, said the new changes will make life easier for students who depend on these refunds. Quest students — some of whom are low-income students — have been wanting this change for a while and played a role in the new policy, Walsh said.

“(Before) it was really, really difficult for our students because a lot of people will not be able to buy their books before the first day of school because they don’t have their refunds, people will be behind on rent or can’t pay for food for a couple of weeks in September because that’s the only money they have to live on,” Walsh said.

Matt Herndon, Associated Student Government vice president for diversity and inclusion, said the previous process for refunds made it hard for students to adjust when they arrived at Northwestern.

“It came about because of a lot of work by students who felt that the process was very unfair and not beneficial to them,” he said. “The refund is such an important thing, and if it comes a few weeks late … it might be too late.”

Correction: A previous version of this story mischaracterized how soon students can receive the cash refund. Students can now receive a cash advance from their financial aid packages a few days before classes begin. Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story also mischaracterized the makeup of the Quest Scholars Network. Quest Scholars comprises both low-income and first-generation students. The Daily regrets the errors.

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