Evaluate Your Financial Aid Package with Ease

The excitement of a college acceptance letter can be quickly replaced with anxiety and concern if the financial award package is not what you expected.  Here are some tips to evaluate the financial aid package and what to do if it falls short.

Th financial aid package may consist of one or more of these three types of aid:

  • Free Money, like grants and scholarships which do not need to be repaid
  • Earned Aid, which appears as eligibility for Federal Work-Study
  • Student Loans, which are listed as Federal Direct Loans and need to be repaid with interest

This article, “Federal Aid Starts with the FAFSA,” discusses how to apply for federal financial aid, which is the starting point for most financial aid awards.

When evaluating the financial aid package, it’s important to understand:

  • The total aid offered by the college in the Financial Aid Award letter.
  • The type of aid being offered.
  • If the aid offered covers the full cost of attendance.
  • If the aid is a one-time award or if it recurs each academic year. 

If there is a gap between the total cost of attendance and what the financial aid package offers, a student may appeal the financial aid decision with the school. Here are seven tips to follow when considering an appeal.

  1. When asking to be considered for more aid, be polite and courteous — don’t be confrontational.
    1. Frame communications as a request for reconsideration
    1. Don’t use the word “negotiate”
    1. Understand that that fact-based requests outlining changes in the family’s financial circumstances are more likely to result in success than emotional “we need more” arguments
  2. Know the process the school uses to reconsider aid
    1. Contact the financial aid office to ask about how to appeal for more aid
  3. Review your FAFSA® and/or CSS Profile™ submissions
    1. Check for mistakes that may have been made in the rush to file. Perhaps you overstated assets or lost significant assets since filing which could impact the total aid received.
  4. Ask a financial aid administrator if your tax deductions were counted as income
    1. Some schools do not accept all tax deductions and view some as untaxed income
    1. If you know which deductions the school converted to income, it may be possible that your actual financial need is greater than they think
  5. Write a letter documenting “special circumstances” and any changes in your family’s situation since your FAFSA® and CSS Profile™ was submitted, such as:
    1. Divorce
    1. Death of a wage earner
    1. Unexpected, unreimbursed medical bills or costs associated with caring for children with special needs
    1. Tuition for private elementary or secondary schools
    1. One-time retirement in the Base Year
    1. Necessary large major home repairs, such as roof or heating systems
  1. Schedule a follow-up meeting or phone call to make your appeal directly to the financial aid administrator
  2. For new students, it may help to share a more generous financial aid package from a different school with the desired schools financial aid administrator

Financial Aid administrators want to be helpful, but there is only so much they can do.  Although a decision about how much of the school’s scarce aid they are willing to allocate to your student has already been made- circumstances do change for you and the school.  A student’s fact-based appeal and/or a change at the school, i.e. a student to whom the school allocated free-money aid decides not to attend, could result in a more generous financial aid package for your family.

Students can proactively apply for additional scholarships to help offset the remaining need and depending upon the response from the school, a private student loan might be another option to help cover the balance.