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Can You Appeal for More Student Financial Aid in the Middle of the Academic Year?

Mark Kantrowitz

September 26, 2011

My daughter is a high school senior and she is applying college now. I just lost my job recently. Based on our previous income, I think we will not qualify for financial aid. Can I file the FAFSA next year but not this year, since our income will decrease dramatically next year? Does the college reconsider the financial aid for a sophomore student if the family income changes? — F. H.

Most forms of financial aid are awarded one year at a time. Each year’s financial aid eligibility is based only on that year’s FAFSA, which is based on the prior tax year’s income. Having a higher income two or more years ago generally does not prejudice the college against awarding your daughter need-based financial aid.

Sometimes families decide to skip filing the FAFSA for the freshman year because they feel that this will increase the student’s chances of being admitted. (Not all colleges use need-blind admissions. Also, some of the colleges that practice need-blind admissions for the regular application pool will become need sensitive when admitting students off of the waiting list, especially if the college has exhausted its financial aid budget.) But this approach can backfire, since some colleges will refuse to award institutional grants to such students in subsequent years. So if you will need financial aid, it is best to apply for financial aid every year.

Given that the job loss affects your ability to pay for her education now, you should file the FAFSA now and ask the college for a professional judgment review to consider the impact of the job loss on your finances.

The FAFSA uses last year’s income as a proxy for this year’s income because it can be verified by comparing it to your income tax return, pay stubs, W-2 and 1099 statements. But it is still intended to be a proxy for the family income during the award year. College financial aid administrator have the authority to make adjustments when there is information that suggests that the prior tax year income is not reflective of ability to pay during the award year.


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