PAYING FOR COLLEGE Q&A NEWSLETTER
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Paying for COLLEGE Q and A Issue #7
 
 
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Can I ask for more financial aid?
The good news is that it's nearly always possible to ask a college for more financial aid. Almost all schools have a standard process for responding to such requests. At some schools, senior financial aid administrators make the decisions; at others, all requests for additional aid are reviewed by a committee.
Before inquiring about more aid, it's a good idea to check the college's website to see if it has posted a procedure for financial aid appeals. Some schools, for instance, will provide a financial aid appeal form.
Who should you approach in the financial aid office? Ultimately, you will want to talk with someone who understands the appeals process and who has the authority to request a change in a financial aid award. This is not typically the person who answers the phone.
What's the best way to make your request? Myra Baas Smith, executive director of financial aid services at the College Board, recommends that parents do not ask for a specific amount of money. Don't approach the discussion with the attitude that it is going to be a negotiation. Instead have a conversation with a financial aid officer and explain why the family requires more assistance.
"If you approach it as a conversation," Smith observes, "it's much easier for the aid person to get a better sense of your family and what your real needs are."
It may be best to initiate contact by saying you have questions about the financial aid award.
Your request is more likely to be successful if it falls into one or more of these categories:
bullet Your circumstances have changed since you applied for aid. For instance, a parent has lost a job or the family has incurred significant medical bills.
bullet You have been offered more financial aid from comparable schools. Some institutions will want you to submit copies of the offers.
bullet The information you provided initially was incorrect or not fully explained. For example, you may have made a mistake on your financial aid application, filed a corrected tax return, or you want to clarify that your income included a one-time payment that won't be repeated.
bullet The college really wants your child as a student. At many schools, students with special talents or with stronger academic profiles than other admitted students can receive more financial aid. If your child barely was accepted, he or she often will have less of a chance of capturing more money.
bullet Your child's cost of attendance (COA) will be higher. If items included in the estimated COA will be higher for your child, it could increase the amount of aid you receive. Special course fees, supplies, computer purchase, and transportation are areas where differences are more common.
 
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I'll earn $4,000 this summer before my senior year. Will colleges expect me to use this to pay for college?
Whether a school expects you to use your earnings to pay for college will depend on the institution and how it calculates financial aid eligibility.
If you earn $4,000 this summer and attend a college next year that only uses the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), your earnings aren't likely to impact your financial aid award. In contrast, if you attend one of the 270 schools that also uses the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, your earnings could lower your financial aid, but only slightly.
The current FAFSA formula allows a student to earn roughly $5,900 before it impacts his or her eligibility for need-based financial aid. Any earnings in excess of $5,900 will be considered a resource for financial aid purposes and assessed at 50 percent.
If your summer earnings of $4,000 represent your only income for the year, it won't be counted. But let's say you make another $3,000 during the year for a total annual income of $7,000. The portion that exceeds $5,900 — $1,100 — would be assessed at 50 percent. This would increase your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) by $550.
The current PROFILE has a similar approach, expecting students to use 50 percent of any earnings above a certain amount to pay for college. The threshold is $3,850 for freshmen and $4,400 for other undergraduates. As a prospective freshman with $4,000 in earnings, the college would expect you to contribute 50 percent of the amount that exceeds $3,850. This would increase your EFC by only $75.
On the surface it looks like the PROFILE is more generous than the FAFSA when it comes to assessing student income. However, the PROFILE formula includes something that the FAFSA doesn't, which evens things out somewhat. The PROFILE builds in an automatic annual contribution for ALL students: $1,750 for freshmen and $2,000 for other undergraduates, regardless of income.
A prospective freshman who has no earnings will still be expected to kick in $1,750. And a prospective freshman who has a paying job will be expected to contribute $1,750 plus 50 percent of any earnings above $3,850.
The PROFILE automatically lowers the contribution levels for lower-income students. In addition, schools may customize the formula to raise or lower the default contribution and income thresholds for other students.
It's not just income that shows up on W-2 forms that counts in financial aid calculations. If a student babysat, mowed grass or did other jobs that didn't generate a paper trail, those earnings still need to be declared on financial aid applications.
 
 
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More Q&A
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bullet My son wants to apply to some expensive private colleges, but we can barely afford a state school. Should we let him apply anyway?
bullet Help! My parents say they won't pay for college or provide any financial information for the FAFSA.
 
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bullet How do I know if my financial aid award is a good offer?
bullet Will home equity reduce my eligibility for financial aid?
 
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Contributor
Lynn O'Shaughnessy is a higher education journalist, college consultant and speaker. She is the author of The College Solution, A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price. Her articles on personal finance and college admission and financial aid have been published by The New York Times, Business Week, US News & World Report, Parade Magazine, Money Magazine, and CBS MoneyWatch. Lynn also writes The College Solution Blog.
Information in this newsletter is of a general nature. It is provided for educational purposes only and may not apply to you or your situation. You should consult a financial or tax advisor before acting on such information.
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