How to Appeal for More Financial Aid

The school year is approaching and thousands more college students are enrolled this fall than last year. In one more ripple effect of the recession, traditional and nontraditional students alike are coming up short on tuition money and wondering how to appeal for more financial aid.

Wall Street Journal: Families Appeal to Colleges for Extra Aid

A quick look at college financial aid pages around the web turned up some consistent recommendations, particularly if your financial circumstances have gotten worse since you filed your FAFSA. Financial aid administrators have the flexibility to adjust aid awards based on special circumstances such as a job loss in your family. If you can prove a loss of income or other specific hardships, you should file an appeal with your school for more financial aid. Even if school itself has no funds remaining, your circumstances may make you more eligible, or your parents more eligible, for low-cost federal loans.

What is a financial aid appeal?

A financial aid appeal is a formal request to have your financial aid package reviewed and increased due to changes beyond your family’s control that have occurred since your FAFSA was processed or that were not reflected in your FAFSA.

Hardships and changes in circumstances eligible for an appeal will vary from school to school, but most schools will include:

  • Significant or catastrophic loss of family income or benefits for either you or your parents (if you’re still a dependent they can claim on their taxes) due to loss of job, disability, retirement, or homelessness. Most financial aid offices are restricting appeals to families in which unemployment or underemployment has lasted 8 weeks or longer.
  • You or your parent becomes widowed, separated, or divorced after the FAFSA was filed
  • You or your parent have necessary medical and/or dental expenses that were paid but not covered by insurance and not likely to be covered by insurance in the future
  • Personal bankruptcy
  • Significant and unexpected disability or medical cost
  • Childcare expenses required in order for you to attend classes
  • Additional costs for required research, internship, or field study
  • Unexpected transportation costs
  • Increase in on-campus boarding costs when increase is not the result of a choice on student’s part
  • Other special circumstances outside of your control (for example, unusual expenses related to special education needs of a brother or sister)

There are also some common appeal circumstances that schools will not consider:

  • Personal choice decisions: you’ve run out of money due to credit card expenses, property purchased for income, high mortgage payments, or a family vacation, wedding, or new car
  • Your income or your parents’ income level is already too high to have any effect on the appeal outcome

How to file a financial aid appeal:

  • Confirm that your FAFSA for the current year is filed and processed
  • Call your financial aid office and tell them why you want to appeal for more financial aid. Ask for any special forms required for filing an appeal and any details you should know about the process (does your financial aid office have a web-page listing all the appeal instructions?)
  • Write a letter explaining your circumstances. Be detailed, not vague.
  • Submit the letter with the appeal form and financial documentation your financial aid administrator requires. This could include the state confirmation of unemployment and/or termination of benefits, copies of medical bills that weren’t covered by insurance, a federal tax return, or the change in income you’re anticipating for the year ahead based on the change in your financial circumstances
  • Ask when you should expect to hear back from them so you don’t bug them with phone calls before the time you could expect an answer

Federal Aid First. . . and Last

It may be that your appeal for more financial aid will be accepted only if your school can get more federal funding for you. Unfortunately, if your FAFSA determined that your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) was zero (0), then you’re already eligible for the maximum amount for federal student aid you can get. If the school or state cannot fill the gap, your appeal for more financial aid may be denied.

By the way, if you haven’t yet filed a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for the coming school year, you still have plenty of time. Apply online, it’s fastest and most efficient.

4 comments to “How to Appeal for More Financial Aid”

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  3. Students may be able to be claimed as an independent student, which will allow them to have more aid. Also, if their parents are separated, and one makes more than another, students might be able to use the income of the parent who makes less as the basis for a financial aid award. Although independent sudents CAN get more aid than dependent students, the interest rate for supplemental loans is higher, and is dependent on the STUDENT’S credit score, so students shouldn’t depend on that. Students need talk to a financial aid counselor at their college or university, and knowing their own credit score is a big plus!

    Students are sometimes wrong to believe that working a lot of hours is always beneficial. The more hours students work, the more their EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) is, so depending on other expenses you may have, you may become ineligible for Pell Grants or loans. It is possible, as stated above, to use income made for this year, rather than using last year’s income (tax return) if circumstances this year have changed for you. If you (or your parents) recently lost a job or had hours cut in 2009, please fill out a form that you can get at your financial aid office, mentioning your “unusual circumstances” or financial difficulties. It can’t hurt! Good luck!

  4. Thanks for this super input, MissionMauve! The financial aid world can be so complicated, it’s not easy to capture all the salient details… and therefore fabulous to have insight from students themselves. I think the point about work-hours driving up a student’s EFC is a particularly valuable tip. Thanks again, and please come back to comment on and add to other EducationGrant posts. Regards, Lisa, EducationGrant Editor

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