Years of studying in high school, hours prepping for standardized tests and perhaps even a little cajoling to get an all-star letter of recommendation have finally paid off.
Your child has gotten a plump letter from her first-choice school and she's ready to make the trek. There's only one snag - the college financial aid package that that school's offering you is less generous than you were hoping for.
Can you still afford to send your child to that school? Should you wave off your child's plans to pack up all of her stuff and head to the dorms? Do you have to accept every financial aid reward letter as is?
Reasons to Stay Calm and Consider Appealing
Now's definitely not the time to panic. Since a financial aid reward letter is being offered by the college or university that's recently become the apple of your student's eye, you and your family are technically under no obligation to accept.
Changes in EFC
Financial aid offices, in light of a recent disaster or big change in family income or unplanned expenses, could provide you more assistance to make up for an unmet need or render a larger share of your financial aid as a more forgiving unsubsidized student loan. Here are common circumstances that are possible grounds for appealing your financial aid award:
Appeal for Job Loss
In an ideal world, the college financial aid office will fully cover the shortfall between your expected family contribution and the total cost of attendance. So, if your expected family contribution is, say, $20,000 and the total cost is $35,000, then ideally, you would receive the difference (i.e., $15,000) in financial assistance. However, colleges don't always have the funds to meet your total financial need. Even if your college was able to meet that total need, you may have experienced a job loss since your last taxes were filed that makes a big impact on your family income, and therefore your EFC.
If you can prove your need exceeds what was determined when you filed the FAFSA due to job loss, the school may be able to adjust your award to make up for lost income.
Unexpected Medical Bills
Obviously a job loss and/or unexpected medical expenses could alter your expected family contribution and ability to fund the costs of college. Financial aid offices realize this and are open to altering your level of financial assistance accordingly to meet a recent unmet need. Make sure you have medical documentation to support your requests.
Natural Disasters and One-time Events
Financial aid offices can use professional judgment to modify your financial aid award based on special circumstances like having experienced a one-time financial disaster, natural disaster, medical bills not covered by your insurance, or a disabled or critically ill family member that affects your ability to pay for college.
Contact the School's Financial Aid Office
When you're looking to get the ball rolling on appealing your financial aid, remember to be cordial and open throughout.
Call or walk into your financial aid office and tell them that, first off, you're interested in attending in the fall but you have a might have a problem financing your education.
When you wear a smile the world's likely to smile back. Just remember to contact the financial aid office before your award letter's deadline as this gives both sides way more options to consider moving forward. Also, be sure to have supporting documentation for your appeal request.
So, what kinds of things can you expect to hear back from that school's financial aid office? Well, your financial aid office could offer you more financial aid to help meet your unmet need. But the worst that can happen is they tell you they are unable to increase your aid package and then your family has some tough decisions to make.
For free help comparing financial aid offers or to learn more about appealing your financial aid office, make a one-on-one appointment with the College Planning Center of Rhode Island.