You submitted your college applications on time, completed the financial aid process and filed the FAFSA. Then you anxiously waited for the college acceptance letters to arrive. Great news – you got accepted! The not so great news is that the financial aid award they offered you isn’t quite what you were hoping to receive.
So now what? Give up your college dreams and go back to doom scrolling because that is just the kind of year this is going to be? Or, is there something you can do about it? Here are a few steps you might be able to take that could make a difference in your college outlook:
- Compare Your Financial Aid Offers: Maybe that was just one college’s opinion of what they would be able to offer to you. You probably applied to several colleges, so take a moment and wait for their information to come in, too, before getting too upset. Look closely at the offer you receive from each college to see what is included, and then compare them against each other. If one is substantially different, it could be time to contact that financial aid office directly to find out what happened. Sometimes a school can make an honest mistake.
- Calculate Your Actual Costs: One college might look great because they offered a grant, but it is only available for one year. Another college might have given you a smaller scholarship, but it actually covers a pretty good percentage of costs for your entire college career. Think about what it might cost you to travel to, and live at, each college versus the others. Sometimes a college near you with lower out-of-pocket costs can be a better option, even with less financial aid.
- Did your Financial Situation Change this Year? I say this every year, but it is even more important to repeat after the year we just had. Your financial aid awards are based on the information you reported in your FAFSA, which used tax returns from 2019. And then 2020 happened. Your family’s entire financial situation might have changed due to COVID or natural disaster, and you can simply no longer afford to pay what the college thinks you can. So you have to take responsibility and let them know what happened. Call them, write them, send them documentation about what happened (politely, of course) and ask if they can reconsider. They might not have the flexibility to make changes but, then again, they just might.
- Think About What You Can Do: If this is really a favorite college, and you have done everything you can to motivate the financial aid office to change their mind, then you only have two choices left. Turn down their offer and go to another perfectly nice alternative. Or find ways to make up the money gap yourself. Start working at a part-time job, sell things online, or ask relatives if they can support your college efforts. Your financial aid package might have included federal student loans, but you can also think about additional private student loans. Just be very careful with this option, as it may mean you will have an even larger debt burden to repay after graduation.
One other alternative is to look for scholarships that might make up the difference between what you hoped to receive and what you were offered. There are many, many scholarships out there which are available to students of all capabilities and academic skills, but you do have to do the work to find and apply to them. That is where the CFAA Scholarship Program might be able to give you the edge. We can help you locate, organize and apply to 60 personalized scholarship opportunities that could help fill your financial aid gap.
Don’t get so set on one specific college that you close your mind to other opportunities. This current disappointment can be a life-long lesson in learning to overcome adversity and find alternatives. For 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.