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Articles / Paying for College / When to Explain Extenuating Circumstances to Financial Aid Offices?

Feb. 10, 2014

When to Explain Extenuating Circumstances to Financial Aid Offices?

Question: If we have a high EFC and extenuating financial circumstances should we send a letter to the financial aid office asking for special consideration before we receive their financial aid award or wait until we receive it?

You should definitely send an explanatory letter to colleges at the time that you apply for aid–or as soon thereafter as possible. Do not wait until you receive your aid award. If you have documentation that backs up your explanation (e.g., the nursing home bills you pay for Grandma), send copies with your letter.

However, like most things in the admissions world, the responses to your situation may be inconsistent. One college might take your extenuating circumstances into account; the next school might not.


So, once your child has received all aid awards, you should contact the financial aid offices that were not responsive to your needs and try to appeal … unless, of course, these are not colleges that your child wants to attend.

If a college–let’s call it “College A”– does not seem to consider your special needs but another school (“College B”) does, you may be able to leverage one aid award against the other, if you prefer A over B. However, this rarely works unless the admission standards at both schools are comparable, and–even then–you have to keep in mind that even similar schools can have dissimilar financial aid policies … or budgets. Even so, it can’t hurt to try.

 

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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