Appealing for more financial aid | Business

Cindy Apt

College-admission season is nearly over. Now comes financial-aid appeal season.

Perhaps your financial-aid package to your top school is less generous than what was offered by choice No. 2. Or your award might have been top-heavy with loans and light on grants and scholarships that don’t require repayment.

Most commonly, aid appeals involve a change in financial circumstances that was not reflected when the Free Application for Federal Student Aid was filed, such as a job loss, furloughs, pay cuts or unexpectedly high medical expenses.

The bottom line: Your financial-aid package is not set in stone, nor is it necessarily the college’s final and best offer. It never hurts to ask for more.

This is likely to be another big year for appeals, given the depth and reach of the pandemic, said Mark Kantrowitz, the author of “How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid.”

While there’s no fresh data on the success rate, experts believe the numbers have gone up since the beginning of the pandemic as job losses and pay cuts accelerated.

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When it comes to financial-aid appeals, start with the school’s website to determine protocol for making the ask. If there are additional questions, I recommend calling; emails could get lost or the information misinterpreted. Just be patient; financial-aid offices are busy this time of year.

Once an appeal is filed, school administrators usually are able to make a decision within a few days for incoming freshmen or a bit longer for current students, Kantrowitz said.

While there are no guarantees that your appeal will be successful, here are some suggestions from experts that can boost your odds:

  • Make a comprehensive argument that includes any extenuating circumstances in your family’s situation that have made it difficult to cover all the costs of college. Supply supporting documents, such as medical bills, update the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and let your school know you’ve taken this step, according to a report by NerdWallet.
  • Experts at My College Planning Team advise families to show the financial-aid office the aid package from a competitor school that has offered a better package.
  • Don’t request a specific amount of money — especially when special circumstances are involved.

“It can only hurt you,” said Kantrowitz. The amount of the adjustment is typically based on a formula, he said.

“If the financial-aid office feels that the special circumstances merit an adjustment, they will change the data elements on the (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) based on the financial impact of the special circumstances,” he said. “This will yield a new expected family contribution, which will yield a new financial-aid package.”

On the other hand, Kantrowitz added, if you offer a lower figure, the school may give you that instead of the calculated adjustment. If you offer a higher figure, they’ll give you the calculated adjustment.

  • While what you say in your appeal is important, how you say it is equally important. Don’t be demanding or argumentative, and be polite to the person who has the discretion to help.

What if you lose your appeal?

No matter how much your incoming college freshman likes the school, don’t take on more debt if you can’t afford to do so. It’s far better to choose another school that is more affordable — and there are plenty of them.

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