Winter is an exciting time for high school seniors and their parents, as each college acceptance received is a cause for celebration. For many families, however, the initial elation of a college acceptance is quickly tempered by the receipt of a financial aid offer and the realization that, even after the awarded financial assistance, a given college’s cost is still out-of-reach for your family. While disappointing, that inadequate financial aid offer is not necessarily the end of the story, nor the end of your child’s relationship with that school of choice.
The college aid application is, while daunting, necessarily limited in scope and does not paint a complete picture of many families’ financial circumstances, especially in these complicated times. For that reason, colleges are given latitude to use their discretion in considering families’ special circumstances when awarding both government and institutional aid.
Consider if you may have had any of these special circumstances that would warrant an appeal to the financial aid offices for special consideration:
- Loss of Income: Financial aid applications are based upon income from the tax year two years prior to the start of the school year. That year is known as the financial aid base year, and is—by the time aid applications are filed, awards received, or the start of school—out of date. Have you lost your job or experienced a pay cut since your base year?
- Change in Household: Have you become separated, divorced, or experienced a death in the family?
- Ending Child Support: Was child support reported on an aid application, yet that support will be ending soon—when a child turns 18 or graduates from high school?
- Artificially Inflated Income: Did you sell off stocks in your base year, resulting in a large capital gain on your tax return? Or did you experience an unusually high bonus, compensation, or severance package that is unlikely to be repeated in future years?
- Medical Expenses: Was your household recently faced with particularly high out-of-pocket medical or dental costs? Or do you regularly pay high bills associated with the care of a special needs child?
- Siblings’ Private School: Do you pay for childcare or private elementary or secondary school tuition for the college applicant’s younger sibling(s)?
- Extended Family Support: Do you have elder care costs for an aging family member, or do you send money overseas to support extended family?
- Natural Disaster: Have you had to undertake substantial home repairs at significant out-of-pocket cost due to an act of nature?
- Parents’ Educational Costs: Are you a parent who is currently enrolled in college, or are you still paying back student loans of your own?
- Better Offers: Has your child received better scholarship offers from other schools or been accepted to less expensive colleges?
While not an all-encompassing list, the above situations are among the most common reasons to appeal a financial aid offer. Think about whether any of the above, or any additional circumstances not noted, apply to your family and significantly affect your ability to pay for college. If so, don’t hesitate to appeal your child’s financial aid offers. Put your request in writing to the colleges under consideration, understanding that financial aid offices love facts, figures, and documentation, so be diligent in presenting your case. While not every financial aid appeal will be granted, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky one said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” If the FAFSA does not tell the whole story for your family, take a shot at submitting a financial aid appeal. You may see an increased offer, bringing that once unaffordable school within your family’s reach, and bringing that feeling of joy back to the college admissions process.