As thorough as the FAFSA is in its line of questioning, there are certain financial circumstances that it is unable to capture. Students and their families also face unforeseen events the year that they apply for the FAFSA, making it ineligible to include for that application cycle.
In these instances, the financial aid package that is distributed to students is not enough to meet their need, and it’s at this stage that many wonder, “What can we do now?”
Fortunately, there is something that students can do: they can ask their college about appealing financial aid.
Financial Aid Appeals
A financial aid appeal, also referred to as a professional judgment, is the process by which a student and their family works with the school to receive a more favorable aid package. It is not a simple procedure, and students should be sure they have a justified reason for asking for more aid.
For instance, a student who has two married parents who are both employed will not see a successful appeal just because they believe they deserve more financial aid. These appeals are reserved for special circumstances
Reasons to Appeal Your Financial Aid Package
- Job loss or decrease in income
- Divorce or separation of a student’s parents
- Death of a parent
- Special needs or disabled children in the family
- Unreimbursed medical or dental expenses
- Catastrophic loss of family home or business, as in a natural disaster
- Change in student’s marital status
- Dependency override
- End of child support, Social Security benefits for a child, or alimony payments
If a student’s family doesn’t fall into one of these categories, it’s still worth checking with the financial aid office to see if an appeal should be made. When in doubt, it’s a good idea to ask.
How the Financial Aid Appeal Process Works
The financial aid appeal process can take weeks or months. That’s why it’s imperative to begin an appeal as soon as it seems necessary.
This could be before the FAFSA is filed, or after. A student might also experience a change in financial circumstances in the middle of the school year, which would warrant a start of the financial aid appeals process. Essentially, there is no designated timeframe for when an appeal should be made. It can take place whenever.
- Ask about the appeals process. In order to begin the appeals process, students or parents should call or email the financial aid office at their chosen institution. Having a brief conversation will enable students to determine if they have a case for an appeal as well as how the college prefers to handle requests.
- Write a financial aid appeal letter. Most colleges will require a financial aid appeal letter that specifies the family’s circumstances. This letter should be concise yet detailed as well as formal and polite. Here, a family should emphasize when the change to financial circumstances is completely outside of their control.
- Gather evidence to substantiate appeals request. When students appeal a financial aid decision, they must do so with documentation. These may include medical bills, layoff or termination notices, bank statements, or receipts, as well as letters from third parties, like teachers, counselors, social workers, etc.
- Complete any necessary forms. The school will likely require forms to be filled out. Should they provide them, the forms must be submitted along with a financial aid appeal letter and any relevant documentation.
- Follow up a week after materials are sent. Finally, students should email or call the financial aid office a week after sending in the materials to be sure they have been received. Nothing will slow down the process more than lost materials or an incomplete appeal.
After the Financial Aid Appeal
A financial aid appeal can either go two ways: it can be denied or approved. If an appeal is approved, the financial aid administrator will make changes on the student’s FAFSA. From there, a new EFC will be generated, which will result in a new financial aid package.
For students that are denied their appeal, there is little else they can do to work directly with the school. Instead, they may need to look to outside resources in order to make college more affordable. This may include student loans, a part-time job, or outside scholarships.
Students can search for scholarships throughout their college career. Fastweb is a great place to start. This free site finds scholarships for a student based on information they provide about their academic path, previous employment, extracurricular activities, and more.