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Articles / Paying for College / Dealing with Disappointing Financial Aid Packages

April 18, 2017

Dealing with Disappointing Financial Aid Packages

Today, I'm turning over the content of my blog post to another David — David Harrity of College Choice. David and I were discussing what high school seniors, who have just been accepted to college, and their families can do when those acceptances are roadblocked by a less-than-adequate financial aid package. This is an all too common situation that can result in major disappointments.

I've written about negotiating financial aid packages in previous posts, but I thought some additional expert perspectives would be helpful for those of you who are currently dealing with this situation. So, I'll turn the page over to David …

Few things are more frustrating than getting into a school you love and not being able to pay for it. After all the anticipation, searching, and apps, a disappointing financial aid package is a discouraging blow to students and parents.

If you're one of those students or parents, we at College Choice have some wisdom for you. We're thankful to Dave at College Confidential for giving us a chance to tell you about appeal options for those less-than-desirable FAFSA packages.

We've recently tackled the step-by-step appeals process, complete with pics, simple directions, and a killer letter template. Check it out here.

Now, let me run through the process to get you familiar with what you need to know. Then you can hop over to College Choice for a detailed run-through of how to write your appeal and get more college bucks.

What Next?

Excluding bureaucracy, the process is actually pretty simple and is broken down into two simple steps. You have to remember the three P's:

  • Persistence: Keep track of your deadlines, financials, and keep in touch with your financial aid advisor. Don't keep the ball in your court for long.
  • Preciseness: In all written and oral interactions, be succinct and exact. Do your best to be brief with the information you need to communicate.
  • Politeness: In each interaction with an advisor, the government, or the school of your choice, keep calm and cheery. Don't be overbearing or demanding.

With that in mind, let's get started!

Step 1: Determine Your Circumstances.

In recent years, two-thirds of students going to college use Federal financial aid packages and scholarships to pay for the venture into higher ed.

From there, about 57% of monies awarded to students came by way of grants, and 34% in Federal loans.

While these numbers vary each year, money from Federal programs is often “left on the table." In 2015, about $2.9 billion sat unused by potential students. Yowza. That's a lot of unclaimed money!

That said, the leftover cash isn't the only factor in the determinations of the government concerning your FAFSA package and giving you more financial aid.

There are two kinds of circumstances that help the government determine your eligibility for an appeal:

Special Circumstances and Unusual Circumstances.

Special Circumstances include concerns about one's ability to meet the original required contribution, changes in income, issues of medical/dental expenses, job loss or dependent costs, illness, death, and natural or financial hardship.

Unusual Circumstances include incarceration or institutionalization of dependents, family estrangement, guardian abandonment, issues of divorce, and a few other rare occurrences.

(Note that concerns in the Special Circumstances category are pretty general while those in the Unusual Circumstance category are quite specific.)

For a comprehensive list of circumstances, check the FAFSA site. Once you've determined your eligibility for an appeal, you can move to the next step.

Step 2: Communicate with the Financial Aid Office.

After you create a plan for your appeal, you have to contact the financial aid officer at your university. This individual has the sole power to deny or grant your request, and this person's word is final.

If you're disappointed with your FAFSA package, you must act as soon as possible. The sooner you act, the more likely you'll receive a response and get the ball rolling.

Make contact via email or phone with your financial aid administrator. Remember, admin types aren't concerned about you willingness or choices concerning your finances, so you have to make an appeal around circumstances that are beyond your control.

When you make contact:

1. Be courteous and honest.

Keep in mind that the people in this scenario are all people. They're doing a job and that job is to help. Make it as easy on them as possible, stay positive, and be honest.

2. Consolidate information.

Be aware that the financial aid administrator is a busy person with multiple clients just like you. When structuring your letters and requests, be specific and succinct, including only necessary information about your circumstances.

3. Submit requests in multiple forms.

Call, email, and send a paper letter. All of these can say the same thing, you just don't want to get lost in the shuffle of a busy office. Again, be concise!

4. Create your appeal letter.

The most important part of this whole process is writing a clear letter that demonstrates your needs and circumstances.

Your letter should be formal and straightforward. In it, introduce yourself, explain your circumstances, make a specific request for money (an exact dollar amount), and attach any documentation that will help bolster your request (bank statements, letters from clergy, doctors, specialists, etc.).

For a blow-by-blow examination and template for an appeal letter, take a look at this guide that will have you finished with the whole process in no time.

Well, that's a quick overview, but it will get you started on the right track for your financial aid appeal.

Always remember: Your appeal is dependent on positive interactions with people, demonstrating your situation and need with clarity, and acting quickly.

We at College Choice hope that this post helps. You can reach out to us via social media, and don't be shy about sharing this helpful information with friends, family, and (even) strangers.


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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