It’s the time of year when students will begin receiving college admissions decisions and financial aid packages. Whether this will be a student’s first time in college or they are navigating the enrollment processes as a current or returning student, the availability of financial aid will likely be a leading consideration for enrollment.
Since the 2022 – 2023 financial aid award will be based on 2020 tax returns, students’ household income could look totally different now. But what options do students have when their financial aid award may not reflect their current situation?
Many students and families may not know they can appeal for more financial aid. The four tips below will help you take the necessary steps to secure all eligible financial aid.
1. Why Should You Submit a Financial Aid Appeal?
Submitting a financial aid appeal is an extra step in the financial aid process – but it’s worth asking and advocating for what you need to be successful in school. Without sharing that your situation has changed since submitting a financial aid application, there is no way for the school to know.
Did you know that by federal law, there are certain reasons you can request a change to your financial aid package through what’s called a “professional judgment” or “special circumstances” appeal? Simply put, it’s your right to request more aid. Reasons to appeal your financial aid award include but are not limited to job loss, loss of a loved one, medical expenses, childcare, or other financial setbacks.
2. Where to Start When Asking for More Financial Aid?
A financial aid appeal or request is available to qualifying students at all types of institutions (Graduate, 4-year, 2-year, and trade) offering federal financial aid. It may take the financial aid office some time to evaluate your request, so you should ask about the appeal options as soon as possible.
After you decide which school you will attend, your best first step is to review your school’s website to determine if they have a Special Circumstances or Professional Judgment form to start the appeals process.
If the school does not have an online form, there is a free tool, SwiftStudent, that offers downloadable templates for students to request adjustments to their financial aid award. Downloading a financial aid appeal template can be done in a matter of minutes because students simply complete a form, and their responses generate an appeal letter they can use to let their school know their situation. The question prompts on the form also guide students through what supporting documentation they may need to submit with their appeal.
3. What Do You Need to Request More Financial Aid?
Whether you are submitting your school’s online form or an appeal letter, you will be required to include supporting documentation with your appeal. Supporting documents can include bills; signed letters from caregivers, medical or service providers’ costs; court documents; termination letters; unemployment benefits; final pay stubs or out-of-pocket repair costs after a natural disaster. Ultimately, it’s up to your financial aid office to determine what documents are required. The goal of these documents is to confirm the change in your financial situation.
Be sure to not submit original documents, as the financial aid office will need to retain documentation for their records.
4. What’s Next After You Submit a Financial Aid Appeal?
- Additional Documentation: Your financial aid office may need additional documents or information to make a decision.
- Follow Up: Make sure to check your official school email address every day so that you don’t miss a response from your financial aid office. You can also reach out to your financial aid office to check on the status of your request. SwiftStudent has a worksheet to help you keep track of your communication and conversations with the financial aid office.
- Appeal Decision: While there is no guarantee that your school will adjust your financial package, federal law allows financial aid officers to use “professional judgment” to update the information used to calculate a student’s financial aid offer. If your request is approved, the financial aid office will share how much more aid you can expect to receive, if any. If you are offered a loan, it’s important to consider the type of loan and how the amount will help you reach your educational goals. If your request is denied, it doesn’t mean you’re out of options. Ask your financial aid office why the request was denied and what other community or institutional resources are available.
Shar-day Campbell is a Fellow at the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation (SHSF) and an award-winning higher education communications expert, who creates content strategies to engage students and close their knowledge gaps about enrolling and funding their education.
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Shar-day Campbell, Contributor