How to appeal for more financial aid

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How to appeal for more financial aid

Postby financialaidpodcast » Mon Apr 06, 2009 10:39 am

Is there such a thing as negotiating your financial aid award package? Yes and no. No in the sense that your school’s financial aid office is not like a car dealership with a dean of admissions in the back room who will give you the manager’s Wednesday special. Yes in that if you can prove beyond question that your financial need and circumstances are greater than what’s provided via the usual financial aid paperwork like the FAFSA, schools can be flexible.

Before we get started, I recommend strongly reading this article on StudentLoanNetwork.com about how to read a financial aid award letter.

Get Your Budget In Order

If you don’t use any kind of personal finance software, be it a desktop application like Quicken or a web-based application like Wesabe, Mint, or Geezeo, I strongly recommend starting with one. The web-based applications are free, so if you’re trying to save money from every angle, start with one of those.

Start by importing any electronic records of your finances and your family’s finances for at least 90 days. You’ll want to take the time to categorize your expenses in terms of mandatory and discretionary, followed by breaking them out into individual categories, like mortgage or rent, utilities, etc.

Once you’ve got your budget broken out, you’ll want to compare it against your award letter, especially looking at what kind of discretionary income you have compared to the expected family contribution, or out of pocket expenses. If your EFC from your award letter divided by 12 (for what’s essentially a monthly EFC) is greater than your discretionary expenses budget (dining out, entertainment, etc.) then you’ve got a good starting point for a conversation about what you can and cannot afford.

Get All Your Paperwork Together

If you’re going to be asking for more financial aid based on changed economic circumstances, have ample paperwork available to back up your claims and requests. Did someone lose a job in the family? Have termination notices, unemployment insurance, or other papers ready. Did your income change? Use any of the budgeting software described above to graphically illustrate your monthly cash flow, along with things like pay stubs, tax returns, etc.

Know What To Ask For

It’s not enough to ask for more money. That’s way too generic. Ask for specific amounts, ask for specific assistance, and try to know some of the different types of things financial aid administrators are permitted to do. Financial aid administrators are permitted to make professional judgement overrides on:

- dependency. If you can prove that you are an independent student due to the involuntary dissolution of your family (i.e. parents in jail, social services removed you from the home due to abuse, etc.) a financial aid administrator can override the dependency requirements for undergraduate students, letting you complete the FAFSA and other financial aid paperwork without parental income information.

- future earnings and income. If you can prove that you or your family has had a significant change in income that impacts your ability to pay for college, a financial aid administrator can grant you more assistance. Be prepared with termination notices, tax returns, and every scrap of paper you can find to make your case.

Updated April 2, 2009: The Department of Education has offered additional guidance for this scenario. See this post at FinancialAidNews.com about the changes.

- cost of attendance. If you can prove that expenses in your student budget (transportation, medical, disability, dependents, and a few other select cases) do not reflect your situation, a financial aid administrator can alter your student budget, allowing for additional aid. If you pursue this override, again, be prepared to document every step of the way to show why, for example, traveling to and from your school requires a transportation budget greater than allotted.

- special circumstances. In some cases, parents divorce during the financial aid award year, but the FAFSA cannot be changed to reflect the divorce. With appropriate court documentation noting the dissolution of the marriage, a student can ask for a special circumstances override that will let them use the income of the custodial parent.

There are other, more narrow circumstances that apply as well. If you don’t know what to ask for, haul as much documentation to your financial aid administrator as possible so that they have as complete a picture of your finances as possible.

Be Polite

The single thing that will do the most good or harm in getting additional aid is how you approach the financial aid office. The best time to approach them is before you need their help, as is the case with virtually all professional networking. Stop by from time to time casually, and say hello. Ask if there are any new scholarships that have been posted. Check in. If you find a scholarship that you’re not eligible for but other students at your school might be, let someone in the office know about it so it can be posted in the office. If you want a real education in financial aid, apply for a work study job in the financial aid office.

If you know your parents are, shall we say, less than diplomatic, then try to mediate any discussions with the financial aid office so that overly aggressive or insistent requests don’t harm your chances of getting help.
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Re: How to appeal for more financial aid

Postby BosCelts09 » Mon Apr 06, 2009 10:46 am

Thanks! I was beginning to get really worried.. I'm going to figure everything out and call up the office asap 8)
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Re: How to appeal for more financial aid

Postby karmacleo » Tue Apr 07, 2009 7:57 am

What if your child received 2 great offers from their 2nd and 3rd choice schools (of equal ratings), but 1st choice offered practically nothing? Does first choice expect to negotiate? Should an email/letter be sent to say we are honored to be accepted, but need more help and send comps? We cannot really appeal to need based as we are middle class, but cannot afford for child to graduate with $50,000+ loan or mortgage the house. Child has exceptional grades and SATS.
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Re: How to appeal for more financial aid

Postby 2incollege » Tue Apr 07, 2009 5:57 pm

Karmacleo.....that is exactly what happened with my daughter. Less than 1/2 the aid at her first choice school that the 2nd and 3rd offered her. And most were merit based since we are definately middle class. We did appeal to her 1st choice school and were turned down. So the decision remains...where will she go? Will strictly the aid offered make that determination? We are all up nights thinking about this and decisions have to be made SOON!! This is just as bad as deciding which schools to apply to and then waiting for the envelopes. Good luck to you.
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Re: How to appeal for more financial aid

Postby karmacleo » Wed Apr 08, 2009 6:17 am

2incollege...thanks for the input..good luck to you and your daughter as well, keep us posted with your decision. We are going to try a few different things, but I don't have high hopes that financial aid office will do much. It is almost like they missed something in her app!
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Re: How to appeal for more financial aid

Postby vanfaux@comcast.net » Wed Apr 08, 2009 6:36 am

I see my son is not alone in this. It's not fair. He's worked soooo hard and done so well. I just can not let him be in that amount of dept eather. Im still waiting on he secound choice school. The waiting its so agrivating! His 3rd choice gave him gave him nice scholarships. If I take these awards to the 1st choice and see will they do anything? Im thinking thats why they are 1st choice schools because they don't have to do a thing! If your middle class your just SCREWED.
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Re: How to appeal for more financial aid

Postby BosCelts09 » Wed Apr 08, 2009 9:10 am

karmacleo - I think you definitely should approach the 1st choice school. You have nothing to lose since your child was already accepted to the 2nd and 3rd. Also, based on the major that your child is pursuing, remember that as a rule of thumb you should not borrow more then one year's total salary of your child's first job out of college. You don't want to make the mistake many others make by choosing the "better name" college and having your child be in debt for years when they could have gone to a cheaper school and received just as good of an education.
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Re: How to appeal for more financial aid

Postby middleclass » Wed Apr 08, 2009 5:20 pm

I appealed to my son's first choice for more aid stating other schools had given him more. I was told in this economy the scholarship amounts are limited and they could not give us anymore. I agree with vanfaux's post. My son is in the top 2% of his class and scored 2250 on his SAT's. However, if he goes to his first choice he will have a huge amount of date. College's today are so expensive that receiving merit scholarships only puts a small dent in the price. Something needs to be done with the financial aid system. The middle class receive nothing but debt while the financially needy are given huge amounts of grants and scholarships to go to school debt free. It seems it is more to your advantage to be financially needy than smart. It seems most middle class do not qualify for financial aid so do the majority take out loans and go into debt?
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Re: How to appeal for more financial aid

Postby karmacleo » Thu Apr 09, 2009 6:42 am

Ok, BosCelts09, we sent the email to ask for more money...if you hear back from me, it's because we got a positive response. If you don't, I jumped off a cliff!
(just kidding).
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Re: How to appeal for more financial aid

Postby BosCelts09 » Thu Apr 09, 2009 7:31 am

middleclass wrote:I appealed to my son's first choice for more aid stating other schools had given him more. I was told in this economy the scholarship amounts are limited and they could not give us anymore. I agree with vanfaux's post. My son is in the top 2% of his class and scored 2250 on his SAT's. However, if he goes to his first choice he will have a huge amount of date. College's today are so expensive that receiving merit scholarships only puts a small dent in the price. Something needs to be done with the financial aid system. The middle class receive nothing but debt while the financially needy are given huge amounts of grants and scholarships to go to school debt free. It seems it is more to your advantage to be financially needy than smart. It seems most middle class do not qualify for financial aid so do the majority take out loans and go into debt?


I agree with you 100%. My family is also a typical middle class family, and couldn't afford to send me to a top-notch school. Luckily, out of high school I wanted to go to an affordable state school anyway, so my debt is minimal. However, if I did strive to go to a top-notch school out of high school I would most definitely be over my head in debt. I have a lot of friends that are 60-80K in debt two years out of college. It is disheartening but there is a few things you can do. Starts with scholarships...

There are hundreds of free scholarships out there for everyone. There is no limit to the number of scholarships you can receive and you can continue applying for them while you are in school. It does take some time and dedication. Here are a few great places to start.

Scholarship Search eBook - A free eBook that teaches you how to search for scholarships on the web - http://www.studentscholarshipsearch.com/ebook/
Student Scholarship Search - A free online scholarship search engine that adds scholarships on a daily basis - http://www.studentscholarshipsearch.com/
ScholarshipPoints - A free scholarship online community that gives away monthly scholarships to its members up to $10,000 - http://www.scholarshippoints.com
$10,000 Scholarship Drawing - A semi-annual free scholarship in partnership with ScholarshipPoints with no GPA or essay requirements - http://www.studentloannetwork.com/10K

Of course there are tons out there.. but those are the best :P
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