By now, you’ve made your final college decision, but you may still have questions about how to pay that tuition bill once it’s time. Fortunately, there are options for students and families who may not be able to afford the education that they once thought possible.
Financial aid offices at colleges across the country are expecting this to be the case for more families than is typical because of the COVID-19 pandemic
. A record number of Americans were laid off or furloughed from their jobs, which will not be reflected on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) because it is completed with financial information from 2019.
Financial aid administrators are able to change their initial financial aid
offer through an appeals or professional judgment process. Though these appeals are typically reserved for extreme cases, students can sometimes even negotiate their scholarship offers.
1. Assess your circumstances.
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If your family has fallen under financial hardships, the school does not expect you to pay with your existing financial aid package. These special circumstances include, but aren’t limited to, job loss, unexpected medical bills or a parent’s death.
Additionally, though the FAFSA attempts to provide a complete picture of your financial obligations, it doesn’t take into account conditions like disabled siblings or parents that require medical or occupational therapy, which also fall under the realm of a possible appeal to your financial aid package.
At this time, you can also “negotiate” your scholarships
or merit aid. If you feel you deserve more or were given more scholarship money from a similar institution, you can always use that as leverage to make a case for more scholarship dollars.
However, treat this particular request with care and tact. Don’t use the term “negotiate;” simply ask financial aid officers if anything can be done to further compensate your merit achievements.
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2. Contact the financial aid office at your institution.
Whether you’ve just made your final college decision or you’re about to pack up for the dorms, it’s never too late to appeal your financial aid decision. You can even request an appeal in the middle of the school year.
Contact the financial aid office via phone call or letter; do not email. This is a personal plea for an appeal so you need to make it as personable as possible. If you write a letter, detail the circumstances and provide evidence to go along with your claims. However, if you call into the office, it may be best to set up an appointment either over the phone or in-person to discuss the change in finances at length.
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3. Be prepared, open, and willing to compromise.
When you have conversations with financial aid officers about the change in financial circumstances, provide documentation, like unemployment benefits or medical bills. You’re making a case for a new financial aid package
, and you need to prove that you need it.
Finally, financial aid officers are helpful, knowledgeable staff at universities who work hard to ensure that paying for school is as feasible as possible for all students. You’ll get a lot further in your appeals if you see the financial aid officer as a partner and not an adversary.
If you are open and appreciative of their help, financial aid administrators are more likely to do everything possible to make paying for school easier for you and your family.
Navigating COVID and Financial Aid Packages
As mentioned earlier, COVID will undoubtedly require more families to make a financial aid package appeal this year. Colleges and universities are prepared for this, so don’t hesitate to contact them if your family has experienced an upset in your financial circumstances that was not reflected on the FAFSA
The FAFSA takes into account the prior prior year’s financial information, which means that all students applying this year will include their 2019 income. It doesn’t take into account job loss, medical expenses, or extended family financial support; all of which are very plausible scenarios in 2020. These also happen to be very good reasons for appealing a financial aid offer.
If you find yourself needing to appeal your award package, you should do so sooner rather than later. Colleges and universities are undoubtedly using COVID-19 relief funds from the federal government to increase financial aid packages for students in the form of emergency financial aid grants
. However, many colleges will likely be offering these on a first-come, first-serve basis.
If you haven’t even completed the FAFSA yet, don’t worry. You still have time. Try to complete it as soon as possible. You will receive your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) within 3 – 5 days, and the Department of Education will then send your Student Aid Report (SAR) to the schools you’re considering.
Within a few weeks, you should receive your financial aid award letter from the colleges and universities you’re interested in. If the numbers don’t add up, that’s when you would begin the financial aid appeal.