college

How to lobby for more financial aid

a graduation cap and a pile of money
Highlights
  • The most successful appeals involve big changes in financial circumstances.
  • Students should ask for something specific, not just for more money.
  • If all else fails, look into private scholarships, tuition discounts, etc.

If your financial aid offer left you a little light in the pockets, don't worry. The game's not over yet. Students can appeal their financial aid offers and potentially get more money than they were originally offered if they play their cards right.

The fastest and easiest way to land more cash is to give the school a good reason why you need it, says Chris Pesotski, director of student financial services for the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

"There are two kinds of appeals. There's the 'I just need more money' appeal and then there's the 'I have a really good reason, there's a change in my situation' appeal," says Pesotski. "At our school, we award the second group 100 percent of what they need. ... The first group gives us an opportunity to open up a dialogue about finances with the family, but we usually don't increase the award."

How to get more aid
  • Notify of change in income.
  • Research cost of attendance.
  • Write effective proposals.
  • Ask nicely, be timely.
  • Investigate other options.

Notify school of change in income

The most successful financial aid appeals are filed by families that have an outstanding fiscal circumstance, such as high medical bills, that isn't taken into account on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, or by families that experience a sharp fiscal change between the time they filed the FAFSA and the time that the student will attend school, according to Pesotski.

Geri Anderson, associate vice president and provost of the Colorado Community College System, says students should keep in mind that the FAFSA form only includes financial information from the year before the student applies to school. That means for students entering school in the 2009-to-2010 school year, financial aid packages will be determined based on income tax returns from 2008.

"If a person lost their job or their parents had been moved to a part-time position so they've had a reduction in income, those are good reasons to file a financial aid appeal," says Anderson. "If a (family) has gone through a divorce or had a spouse pass away or had a significant illness in the family, anytime there's a change in income or status, those appeals are usually very successful."

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Research cost of attendance

Reecy Aresty, a financial aid consultant and author of "How to Pay for College Without Going Broke," adds that if students haven't had a drastic monetary change between FAFSA and school time, they may be able to land more aid simply by researching what factors go into the school's estimated total cost of attendance and whether those figures are realistic given the family's financial and geographic situation.

"If a student lives in California and they're going to school in Florida and the school's average travel allowance is $600 per year, the student could ask the school to increase that to, say, $1,500 a year to accommodate for the extra distance," says Aresty. "Students should always ask for something specific, like an increase in travel allowance or a winter clothing allowance if they live somewhere warm and are attending a school somewhere cold. They should never just ask for more money."

Aresty advises students to ask the financial aid office for a breakdown of their total cost of attendance and to research what percentage of students at that school have their total financial need met. Some aid offices freely offer this information, but students can also obtain a ballpark figure for their school at Collegeboard.com or by checking out financial aid guidebooks, such as the "College Money Handbook 2009." Once students know how the school determines its cost of attendance and how many enrollees receive sufficient aid awards, they can use those figures to explain where their aid package comes up short to lobby for more funds.

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