Once students and parents finish completing the FAFSA and completing the CSS Profile for the 2022-23 academic year, the next step in the process is that your financial information is forwarded to each of the colleges on your list. The financial aid administrators then review it, along with your admissions application information, to put together the financial aid package they will offer you to attend their college. The offer may be a combination of grants, scholarships, loans and work-study opportunities.
Each college carefully crafts its own financial aid offer using their need-based and merit-based criteria. Some offers may be higher or lower than others, and the student might be disappointed to learn that a favored college does not have the best offer. Another area that can concern parents is that this year’s FAFSA relied on information from 2020 to create a picture of their family’s financial situation, and that could certainly have changed in 2021. Due to COVID, natural disasters, death, or divorce, some families experienced a dramatic change in their financial situation. Here are actions you can take in situations like these when you might need to make a stronger financial case to colleges:
- Appealing Financial Aid When Your Needs Have Changed: If you feel that your financial situation has changed significantly from what is reflected in your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, you will need to write a letter to the financial aid office, with details of what happened. If there was a job loss, divorce or death, provide a date and supporting documentation. Those families which experienced large medical bills due to COVID or other illnesses will need to total their out-of-pocket expenses for review. If a natural disaster caused damage or destroyed your home, you will also need to provide supporting documentation for that. In some cases, you may have experienced a non-recurring windfall in 2020 that will not be repeated again. Include specific amounts of money you now owe, compared to that which is reflected on your FAFSA.
- Appealing Financial Aid When Your Situation Has Changed: It can be harder to appeal merit-based aid, because this can be tougher to prove. If you received a significantly lower award from one school, it might be possible to ask them to reconsider based on the other offers. A student who scored significantly higher upon retaking an SAT or ACT exam might be able to submit that as evidence for further review.
Keep these guidelines in mind when appealing financial aid or making a stronger case:
- Be polite and respectful. Yelling, swearing, or bullying seldom yield positive results.
- Follow the school’s recommended procedures and deadlines for appealing their financial aid offer.
- Keep copies of all documentation you provide.
- You can check once to be sure they have received all the needed information, but don’t contact them every day. Financial aid offices are swamped with requests from other students.
- Always check your portal or email to look for further communication from the financial aid office. If additional information is requested, provide it as soon as possible while your case is still fresh in their mind.
After all this effort, it is still possible that the college may decline to change its mind on your offer. You will then have a decision to make in this case of whether you want to accept another offer, or try to find alternative ways to make up the financial gap at this college. Your student can look for additional ways to earn income, or put a big push on the search for scholarships. These efforts might yield enough funds to make up the difference between what you hoped to receive and the actual award.
CFAA is here to help with every step of the financial aid process, including submitting working with colleges to appeal a financial aid award. Set up a CFAA new client free strategy session to learn more about finding ways to pay for college. To get the latest financial aid information and college application to-do lists, look for my weekly JustAskJodi emails and check out my monthly CFAA e-newsletter.