For many college-bound students, the expectations of higher education are eclipsed by the large financial commitments that come along with it. With tuition costs rapidly rising faster than financial aid awards, more students are coming up short in their financial aid packages. The gap in the financial aid awards letter appears when the student’s expected family contribution (EFC) in addition to the school’s financial aid package don’t match the cost of the university's attendance. This gap is shown as 'unmet need'. One way you can meet unmet need is to appeal the financial aid offer. If the college’s package of loans, grants, scholarships and work-study are not an adequate amount, the student can meet with the financial aid office. You can write a letter to request a meeting and explain why the school should consider adjusting your aid offer.
Some helpful tips for financial aid appeals and beyond:
1. Organize documents for the financial aid office to assess in defense of your case, predominantly conditions not displayed on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA.)
2. Make it known that your family’s financial situation has significantly changed since you filed your FAFSA (i.e. death, unemployment, medical expenses).
3. Every school has a different stance regarding financial aid appeals. Some schools like to see the aid packages offered by other schools you’re considering, while others might be put off by its inclusion.
4. Be considerate when asking for extra assistance. Approach the aid officer as a supporter, not an enemy.
5. Look for scholarships. Search websites and offline sources. Check with your local library, organizations in your community and your employer for additional scholarship opportunities.
6. Think about a part-time job. If work-study isn’t part of your aid package, ask if it’s an option. Explore the campus and nearby communities to find other possible employment choices.
7. Get the most from your loans. Make sure you have access to the maximum you can in subsidized loans. For instance, Stafford loans allow dependant undergraduate students to borrow up to $2,625 their freshman year, $3,500 their sophomore year and $5,500 for each remaining year.
8. If you still don’t have enough money to cover the gap after increasing your subsidized loans, you can contact a private lender for a supplemental loan. This loan will not contain all the rewards that a Stafford loan carries, but it could get you to your dream school.
9. Diminish your expenses. Search for ways to decrease the cost of attending school. Is the school in an area where you might be able to live at home or with relatives? Can you come across the same academic goals at a less costly university? Think about accelerated programs where you can complete a degree in three years instead of four. Contemplate going to a community college for two years, then transferring in to a four year institution to complete your degree.