You’ve been accepted into the college of your choice. Great news!
But your financial aid award is not enough to help you afford the college. Not great news.
So, what can you do?
You can appeal your financial aid award to try and get more aid from the college.
A financial aid appeal is your formal request to have the school reconsider the financial aid award they gave you. While the process and timing will differ at each school, this appeal is typically filed via a letter in which you explain the reason(s) why you believe your financial aid award should be reviewed and recalculated.
But be aware that you must have a compelling reason for filing an appeal. In fact, asking for more aid just for the sake of it, can and has backfired, with some students actually ending up with LESS aid than they had before.
So, let’s break down the circumstances under which you SHOULD file an appeal and when you SHOULD NOT file an appeal. (Remember that there are other sources of financial assistance for affording college including scholarships. Check out our blog on Where to Find College Scholarships Now for more information.)
When you SHOULD file a financial aid appeal:
1. You can compare unequal awards from two similar schools.
The amount of aid available and the criteria for aid varies greatly among schools. But when two schools are relatively similar, in demographics, admissions qualifications, and size – you may be able to leverage one against the other to raise your award. For example, let’s say you were accepted at Villanova and Boston College. Yet, you were offered $30,000 more in financial aid at Villanova. It would be reasonable to appeal your financial aid at Boston College to try and get it closer to the amount offered by Villanova.
2. You’ve had a change of circumstances.
Need-based financial aid is generally calculated based on the information you provide in your Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) form. The information on your FAFSA is very reliant on your prior year’s tax return. So, the FAFSA may not fully capture your current financial picture. Here is a list of changes in circumstance, not reflected on your FAFSA, that could merit an increased financial aid award:
• Loss of income/employment
• Parent’s separation/divorce
• Death of a parent
• Change in divorce agreement/child support
• Losses and expenses related to natural disaster
• Unforeseen medical expenses
3. You have special circumstances.
While the FAFSA gathers a lot of information, there are definitely circumstances that cannot be described on the form, that greatly impact your ability to afford college, and that could be the basis for your appeal. These special circumstances include:
• A chronic health condition that creates a financial burden for the family.
• One-time high income – if there was an income increase during the tax year that was a one-time occurrence, not expected to recur. For example, a capital gain, distribution, or sale of business.
• Private elementary, middle, or high school expenses for siblings.
• Financial support of additional family members, such as grandparents.
When you SHOULD NOT file a financial aid appeal:
1. You are comparing colleges with different policies and metrics.
Again, the way that financial aid is determined at different colleges varies…a lot. So, if you are not comparing apples to apples – then don’t bother. For example, the website of the University of Chicago states that they offer, “free tuition for families with incomes under $125,000 per year (with typical assets), while families earning less than $60,000 (with typical assets) will have tuition, fees, and room and board covered by financial aid.” This is most likely not the metric used by other schools, such as state schools. (Of course, college costs are also different. So don’t just look at your financial aid award, look at your expected out-of-pocket costs.)
2. You have no new information or special circumstances.
Appealing your financial aid award without offering any compelling reason (see above) could backfire. Drawing more attention to your (unchanged) circumstances in this case could actually result in an award DECREASE.
3. You had cosmetic home repairs or other elective expenses.
Unless a renovation or repair to your home was essential, do not use it as the basis of a financial aid appeal – no matter how much it cost. The financial aid committee will not consider the $50,000 you spent to renovate your kitchen as part of their metrics. The same goes for expenses related to leisure travel and purchases.
College is expensive. If you are not satisfied with your financial aid award, it could be worth appealing if you have new information or circumstances to share. If not, be careful about drawing too much attention to your award – it could be reduced.
For more information on making college more affordable, go to our website or contact our college funding and financial aid specialists at 610-422-3530.