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Franklin Building

If you want to live off campus but are receiving financial aid from Penn, don’t worry — your aid award won’t change depending on whether you live at 34th and Walnut or at 44th and Walnut.

Since your financial aid award is independent of whether you choose to live on or off campus, you will be awarded the “same dollar amount” of financial aid regardless of where you decide to live, Director of Financial Aid Joel Carstens said.

Living off campus also does not require any additional applications for financial aid, he said.

Carstens added that there is only one logistical difference with regards to your financial aid if you live off campus: where you pay your expected family contribution to.

One logistical change

Financial aid grants that Penn provides to its students are applied directly towards University charges, Carstens explained. In the case of students who live on campus, this grant assistance directly pays for their housing costs, as well as tuition and fees. Any leftover costs would be paid by the student’s family, as their expected family contribution.

If you live off campus, your bursar bill will still contain tuition and other fees, like dining costs, but it won’t contain your housing costs. That means if your financial aid award is greater than the amount Penn charges you, that excess money will be given directly to you, so that you can combine that amount with your expected family contribution to pay rent to your landlord.

“The only thing that changes is the amount that the University bills the family directly, and in most cases, the amount that the family is responsible for paying directly to the University,” Carstens said.

So how do you receive any excess financial aid and use it to pay your landlord? The first way is through direct deposit: After your first University tuition bill is paid (which normally occurs in September), any excess funds you received will be placed into the account you registered with Penn for direct deposits.

If you don’t have a direct deposit account with the University, the second way of receiving the money is by having it loaded onto a card that is given to you by Penn. The money on the card can be transferred into a bank account, or withdrawn from a bank.

However, Carstens said that it sometimes takes a while for transactions related to the card to be processed, so “it’s in a student’s best interest to sign up for direct deposit.”

Potential pitfalls

While your financial aid package won’t change with regards to whether or not you live on campus, Carstens said that students living off campus sometimes run into financial pitfalls.

One of the most common problems he said the Office of Financial Aid sees is students not budgeting enough for their expenses at the beginning of the year.

If students don’t budget for the initial expenses they incur at the beginning of the term — such as their September rent payment — they will come in and see us and say that they can’t wait until their funds are released, Carstens said. However, he added that in those cases, his office is usually able to secure emergency funds for those students.

Carstens said students also sometimes face problems when they fail to budget appropriately for rent during the summer months.

“Usually, we can assist students … if they are enrolled in summer classes,” Carstens said. For students who are not enrolled in classes over the summer, “we don’t have resources to help them other than in the planning stages,” he added.

He encouraged students to seek help from the Financial Aid Office when planning housing costs. “Coming to see us after the fact won’t necessarily help them,” he said.

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