A Parent's Guide to Appealing Financial Aid
Purvi S. Mody
In the next month as high school seniors await their final college acceptances, parents will be eagerly awaiting the accompanying financial aid award letters. More often than not, families believe that they should be awarded more aid than offered. If you receive an award letter that truly will not give you the financial ability to send your child to a given college, it may be worth your time to file an appeal.
How to figure out if it's worth filing a financial aid appeal...
If your family makes more than $150,000 Adjusted Gross Income, the chance of receiving need-based aid (except loans) is very low. If there are factors not taken into consideration in the AGI calculation that significantly lower the amount of money you take home, address them in the appeal. Credit card debt and car payments will not sway a college.
Your primary home and retirement accounts are usually protected from the financial aid calculations, but all other assets are fair game. Even though your investment accounts may be down, colleges consider them as available for funding your child's education. Money saved in your child's name is money colleges assume can be used toward costs, so think about all of the family assets.
How to get more financial aid
If after taking the above into consideration, you still believe that you are eligible for more aid, follow the steps below:
1. Review the documents that you submitted for financial aid consideration -- FAFSA, CSS Profile, tax returns, and college financial aid forms -- for accuracy. Were the income or assets reported lower because you used estimates rather than real numbers? Have the numbers changed significantly because of a loss of income or other unexpected events?
2. Think about the unreported expenses that lower your ability to pay for college. These expenses include caring for an aging parent is not claimed as a dependent, anticipated medical expenses not covered by insurance, or costs associated with seeking employment.
3. Draft up a letter with bullet points with why you need additional aid.
4. Call the college's financial aid office before you send the letter. Discuss the situation with the letter in front of you so you don't miss any points. Changes in aid will not be made over the phone, but the aid officer will probably be able to give an assessment of whether your aid package will change.
5. Unless you applied Early Decision, don't be afraid to show scholarships that your child received from other comparable colleges.
6. Send documentation to back up your claims. The numbers will need to be verified.
7. Remember that additional aid may come in the form of student or parent loans.
Grants are usually reserved for families for whom a college education would otherwise be impossible. Make sure that your child is also applying for scholarships.
When deciding on which college to send your child, the costs should certainly be considered. Financial aid offices are usually willing -- within reason -- to make college costs manageable. If you have unusual or complex financial circumstances, you may want to involve your accountant or financial advisor in the discussions.
Last thing — don't wait to start these conversations. By May 1, your child must notify the college that he or she will be attending and you want to put the financial aid conversations behind you by then.
Purvi S. Mody is co-owner of Insight Education, an educational consulting firm that helps students throughout the country and internationally to achieve their educational goals. Get in touch with her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @InsightEduc.