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Top 8 FAQs About Financial Aid for the Busy Adult Student

man counting student loans and income

Each year, 30-40 percent of all undergraduate students take out federal student loans to complete college, and many more receive financial aid. At SNU, we believe that all students deserve the opportunity to pursue higher learning, and almost all of our students get financial aid. 

However, financial aid can be confusing. What can you use the money for, and when? Which financial aid package is right for you? If you’re wondering what you can use student loan money for, the answer depends on the type of loan you get and whether you have other forms of student aid. In many cases, you can use your financial aid award to cover all expenses associated with school—not just tuition. 

Here are our top answers to the most common questions about how to use student loan money: 

How to Use Student Loan Money: FAQs

The US Department of Education (DOE) requires that students use their loans and other financial aid awards for expenses directly related to school. It’s illegal to fraudulently complete student loan paperwork, such as by claiming to be enrolled in school when you’re not. 

Many options allow you to use your student loan funds for expenses beyond school tuition and fees. Because so many of a student’s expenses are indirectly related to education, you have significant flexibility in deciding how to spend the funds.

1. Can you use FAFSA® money for anything? 

You can use Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) money for any expenses directly related to the costs of attending school. This includes: 

  • Housing
  • Books
  • Transportation 
  • Childcare
  • Meals  
  • School or home office supplies

2. How can adult students use their student loan money? 

Student loans are for more than just tuition. They can help relieve many of the financial pressures associated with attending college. The Department of Education and other lenders understand that college carries many hidden expenses—reduced hours at work, higher rent on a nearby apartment, meals on campus, school supplies and more. 

It’s fine to use your money to fund any expenses associated with school, including: 

  • Books and supplemental materials, such as school supplies or tutorials
  • Tutoring and additional support
  • Activity fees
  • Transportation
  • School-related living expenses such as childcare, rent and meals

You should always pay tuition and mandatory fees first to ensure you can continue attending school. Once you pay all required fees, you can use the rest of the money for living expenses connected with your education. 

There may be different rules for grants or scholarships. Make sure you review your entire student aid package, disburse mandatory funds to the right party and fully understand how to spend your money. Once you’ve paid tuition and fees, most forms of student aid are yours to keep. But remember, you’ll still have to repay student loans, so it’s wise to live frugally and borrow only as much as you need to survive. 

3. What can private student loans be used for? 

Private student loans, like FAFSA loans, are for any expenses associated with attending school. Some lenders place additional stipulations on the loan, so it’s important to read the loan documents. But private lenders will not go through your bank account to see how you’re spending the money. In many cases, private lenders offer wider latitude to students to determine how they want to spend the funds. 

4. Is it illegal to spend student loan money?

The Department of Education requires students to spend their loan money on expenses directly related to college. The definition of this is broad because most basic expenses are in some way related to college attendance. It is not illegal to spend your student loan money—that is its purpose. 

What is illegal is lying to get student loan money. You cannot claim to be enrolled in college when you are not, lie about your income, provide fraudulent tax returns, or give other false information that renders you eligible for more aid than you might otherwise get. You could face prosecution for serious, intentional lies on your application. 

The rules are similar if you have VA benefits, although you may be eligible for non-monetary benefits. We can help you review your full slate of benefits at our SNU VETS Center

Did you know there’s a variety of options for funding your degree besides  loans? Learn more in our new resource, The Complete Guide to Financial Aid.

Accessing Student Loan Money: FAQs

Almost all forms of aid are disbursed directly to the school, with any leftover funds sent to you as a refund. When you apply for financial aid at SNU, we’ll work with you to ensure all your paperwork is accurate so you can get your money as quickly as possible.

5. Are there student loans that go directly to you?

The process for receiving student loans depends on the financial aid you qualify for and your school’s policies. 

In most cases, grants and scholarships go directly to your school, and then any additional money you receive will come to you in the form of a direct bank deposit. Most loans also go directly to your school. Your school takes out the tuition money and then credits you with the rest. You need to understand the process for getting your money and how your school disburses funds. If you get a check from your school, make sure they have already taken out the tuition money before spending the funds.

6. What if I don’t use student loans to pay tuition?

If you don’t pay tuition, you won’t be able to re-enroll in school. This could affect your eligibility for additional student aid in the future and your ability to graduate. Your Financial Services Coordinator can also help you set up convenient payment plans throughout the semester. You cannot get a loan to pay tuition debt, and you’ll still have to repay your loans even if you do not graduate or attend classes. So ensure you are fully committed to going back to school before seeking student aid. 

7. Does student loan forgiveness mean I won’t have to repay my loans?

The Biden administration recently announced a comprehensive plan to forgive some student loans. The plan only applies to student loans disbursed before June 30, 2022. There is no guarantee or reason to believe that any loans you take out now will be forgiven.

There are some additional student loan forgiveness programs, especially for people who go into public service. So if you’re hoping to one day have your loans forgiven, it’s important to research these programs ahead of time and pursue a degree program that maximizes your chances of debt forgiveness via public service. 

8. Could student loan forgiveness affect me in other ways? 

Student loan forgiveness applies to most people who received federal loans and offers the greatest relief to those who also got Pell grants. If you have defaulted on your student loan because of past hardships, the loan forgiveness program could bring your debt out of default if you owe less than $10,000 (or $20,000 and received a Pell grant). This can relieve the financial and emotional burden of living with student loan default and may renew your eligibility for student loans. 

Managing student loan money can be challenging, especially if this is your first time receiving a large sum of money. SNU’s financial aid office does more than fill out applications. We can help you manage your money, decide which student aid package is right for you and advocate on your behalf with the Department of Education. Stop by anytime for help, or email us at

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