Financial Aid Appeals
What is a Financial Aid Appeal?
Schools know that their financial aid systems aren't always perfect at capturing the full financial picture. That's why they have processes in place collectively known as Financial Aid Appeals. Basically, this involves a letter or form completed by you (the student) explaining your full financial circumstances to the school with the goal in mind of increasing your financial aid award. In Bob's case, $13,000 is too much to pay out-of-pocket now that his dad makes less money. Therefore, he should contact his school to ask about their Financial Aid Appeals process.
Keep in mind this process varies significantly depending on the school you're contacting, so it's always a good idea to call the financial aid office if you're considering filing a Financial Aid Appeal!
Who Should File an Appeal?
Although it would be nice to get more money from schools, financial aid officers do have to follow guidelines when distributing financial aid. While they'd like to help out each and every family, money is often limited. Of course, there are many situations in which filing a financial aid appeal is a good idea! Below are a few examples:
- Job loss or change
- Loss of home or other asset loss
- New dependents in the home (i.e. new baby, grandparents being supported etc)
- Excessive medical expenses
- Other extenuating circumstances
"Other circumstances" can include many things that might impact your finances, so be sure to talk to your adviser and/or high school counselor if you fall into this category! Keep in mind, many schools will require you to provide documentation to prove your claims. In Bob's case, he can provide copies of his dad's current W-2s, pay stubs, and/or have a written letter from his dad's employer. All of this help prove to the school that his dad has a different job and his new income is much lower than it was before.
You're Appealing Financial Aid...Now what?
If your adviser and/or high school counselor agree with you that an Appeal is a good option, make sure to follow these steps.
- Call the Financial Aid Office! I know this has been said before, but it's important to call the office and learn what their appeals process entails. Remember to be kind and courteous on the phone-getting angry about your financial aid will likely make the situation worse!
- Make a List: Once you learn about your schools' process, it's important to make a list outlining what you need to say to the school (especially if you need to write a letter!). Having bullet points will help you remember the financial details you need to include in your letter to the school.
- Gather Evidence: Get all of the documentation you have that will help prove your claims to the school. This can include tax forms, medical bills, bank statements, court documents etc.
- Be Specific: When writing your letter, provide details of your family circumstances that fully explains why you need more financial aid to cover expenses. Refer to your list/evidence gathered to help you make a strong argument.
- Submit ASAP: Financial Aid Appeals take time to process, and in some cases it can take WEEKS before you receive an answer. Submitting sooner will allow you to get an updated financial aid package sooner, and therefore, allow you to commit to a school before May 1.
Case Study: Bob
Bob got into his dream school! Unfortunately, he doesn't think he'll be able to attend because it's too expensive.
Bob's Dream School has a Total Cost of Attendance of: $40,000/year. Bob was offered:
- University Scholarship - $20,000/year.
- Loan - $5,000/year.
- Work Study - $2,000/year.
Bob's out-pocket-expenses would be: $13,000/year
Bob's EFC (Expected Family Contribution) on FAFSA was listed as 13,000 but he always knew that was too high. His dad got a different job this year, and his family doesn't make as much money as they used to. Since FAFSA uses taxes from last year, it didn't take this job change into account.
What can Bob do in this situation?
Answer: File a Financial Aid Appeal!
Bob was able to explain his situation to his dream school and receive more money to cover his expenses during his first year. He agreed with the financial aid officer that next year, his FAFSA should reflect his dad's current income and his aid will be automatically adjusted WITHOUT needing to file another financial aid appeal. Keep in Mind: In some situations you will have to file a financial aid appeal EVERY year depending on your circumstances!
While Bob's situation was able to be resolved successfully, in many cases an appeal won't be enough. Finances are limited at many institutions, and some schools simply cannot cover the gap in financial aid. Although it's important to ask about the possibility of increasing your financial aid, it's also important to remember the answer might be "no".
If you receive less-than-exciting news after filing an appeal, be sure to talk to your adviser and/or high school counselor! They can help you and your family make the best decisions moving forward.