What if your financial aid package just isn't enough? Don't give up. You've got options.
Before you abandon the college of your dreams, consider having a discussion with a financial aid officer at the college. Here are some guidelines for making an appeal for more aid.
Take Action as Soon as Possible
By the time admission letters go out, most colleges have used up their financial aid, especially grants and scholarships. So, timing is crucial. If you think you have a good case to present, contact the financial aid office immediately upon getting your aid offer.
Correct Any FAFSA or PROFILE Errors
You can make corrections to your FAFSA on the FAFSA website. Your FAFSA provides a "snapshot" of your financial situation on the date you originally signed it, so your corrections must be valid as of that date, not afterwards. Corrections due to a change in circumstances after filing the FAFSA are done through the college (see below).
If you submitted the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, you cannot submit changes online. You must update a hard copy of your Acknowledgement Report and send copies of it to all the colleges on your list. Be sure to contact the financial aid offices at your prospective colleges to let them know you have submitted corrections.
Report Financial Changes and New Information to the College
To report changes in circumstances or to provide information not included on aid applications, you must appeal directly to the college. Check with the college to verify its procedure for submitting and documenting this information. Financial aid offices are likely to consider the following circumstances:
- Disability or serious illness
- Divorce, separation, or remarriage
- Birth of a sibling
- Care for an elderly parent
- Unemployment or lowered income
- Moved or sold home
- Tuition for private school for a sibling
- Increase in child care expenses
- Siblings attending college
- Changes in number of dependents in household
Ask for More Gift Aid
The aid that reduces college cost is gift aid (scholarships and grants). Aid officers may be open to discussing an increase in gift aid if you are a desirable candidate for admission, have a strong case, and make your appeal early.
Ask for a Change to Your Cost of Attendance
The standard cost of attendance used in your aid calculation may not take into account costs that apply to your situation. For example, you might have higher transportation expenses if you live far from the college; purchases may be required for your major, such as a computer; or there may be costs to accommodate a disability. The financial aid office has the authority to increase the COA for your situation, which increases your financial need. If the college has aid available, they might increase your aid package.
Tips for Working with the College
- Know the procedure for filing an appeal. You can usually find general guidelines for filing an appeal on the college's website. If you can't find this information online, contact the financial aid office directly.
- Decide whether you or your parent should contact the aid office. Aid officers say they are impressed with a student who takes the initiative to make the call. In many situations, however, the parent is better prepared to discuss a family's financial situation.
- Be prepared to provide documentation. The financial aid officer is likely to ask for documentation of the circumstances that have changed your financial picture. This could mean an official letter from your mom's company confirming that she was laid off, or financial records for the past six months that show a steady loss of income.
- Know how attractive you are to the college. If you believe you are a desirable student, explore the possibility of getting or increasing merit aid from the college. (Merit-based aid may be handled by the admissions office.) If you have been in touch with a professor or coach, they might be able to put in a good word for you as well.
- Wait until you have other offers in hand. You will have more leverage if at least one other college has accepted you and offered you a better financial aid package. If another college has offered a more attractive package, say so.
- Don't challenge the college with an ultimatum. Explain how much you really want to attend that college, but that the cost is holding you back.
- Say please and thank you. When asking for more gift aid or simply updating your eligibility factors, approach the parties holding the purse strings in a calm, professional, and reasonable manner. You're more likely to come out ahead.
- If you have received your aid awards, use the Compare Awards tool to see your actual net prices.
- If you want an estimate of your net prices at different colleges, use the Net Price Calculator.
- Learn more about how outside scholarships impact aid awards.
- Is financial aid still a mystery? Take a look at What Is Financial Aid?
Note: Financial information provided on this site is of a general nature and may not apply to your situation. Contact a financial or tax advisor before acting on such information.