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Bridge the Financial Aid Gap

By Stephen Borkowski

September 04, 2008

For many college-bound students the anticipation of higher education is overshadowed by financial anxieties.

With tuition rising faster than financial aid dollars, more students are finding gaps in their financial aid packages. The gap appears when the student’s expected family contribution (EFC) plus the school’s financial aid package don’t equal the cost of attendance. This gap appears as unmet need on a student’s financial aid award letter.

How can families meet unmet need?

Appeal the financial aid offer. If the college’s package of loans, grants, scholarships and work-study come up short, meet with the financial aid office. Write a letter to request a meeting and explain why the school should consider adjusting your aid offer.

Some pointers for the meeting:

  • Prepare documentation for the financial aid office to review in support of your case, particularly circumstances not revealed on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA.)
  • Demonstrate that your family’s financial circumstances have changed dramatically since you filed your FAFSA (i.e. death, unemployment, medical expenses).
  • Different schools have different attitudes toward financial aid appeals. Some schools like to see the aid packages offered by other schools you’re considering, while others might be put off by its inclusion.
  • Be courteous when requesting additional assistance. You’re not trying to drive a bargain on a used car. Approach the aid officer as an ally, not an adversary.

Look for scholarships. Continue to review the results of your FastWeb scholarship search. Keep your profile updated to be sure you’re getting the most relevant results. You can also expand your search to offline sources. Check with your local library, organizations in your community and your employer for additional scholarship opportunities.

Consider a part-time job. If work-study isn’t part of your aid package, ask if it’s a possibility. Research the campus and surrounding community to find other viable employment options.

Get the most from your loans. First, be sure you’re borrowing the maximum you can in subsidized loans. For instance, Stafford loans allow dependant undergraduate students to borrow up to $2,625 their freshman year, $3,500 their sophomore year and $5,500 for each remaining year. You can find more student loan information at FinAid.org.

If you still don’t have enough money to cover the gap after maximizing your subsidized loans, you can approach a private lender for a supplemental loan. This loan won’t have all the advantages of a Stafford loan, but it could get you to your dream school.

Reduce expenses. Explore ways to reduce the cost of attending school. Is the school in an area where the student might be able to live at home or with relatives in the area? Can you meet the same academic goals at a lower cost institution? Considered accelerated programs where you might complete a degree in three years rather than four. Consider attending a community college for two years, then transferring in to complete your degree.


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