Going to college can be one of the most exciting times in a young person’s life, an opportunity to gain knowledge and expand their horizons in so many ways. However, colleges do not always come cheaply, and even initial financial aid may not be enough. If your initial financial aid award doesn’t cover it, don’t be discouraged; experts offer tips for how to seek additional financial aid.
Of course, all students should start with the basics, including filling out the FAFSA and contacting the financial aid office at their intended school.
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Reach Out for Help
“Communicating with a financial aid officer may be intimidating for some, but students who reach out sooner rather than later may be awarded additional aid over those who wait until the semester’s tuition is due — due to availability,” said Christine Roberts, head of student lending at Citizens.
Share Changes in Family Income ASAP
If your family’s financial situation has changed from when you completed the FAFSA or received your award letters, Christine Roberts says you should get in touch with the financial aid office as soon as possible to begin the process of applying for additional aid and assessing resources. ”The financial aid office may be able to provide a professional judgment if there have been changes to your family situation. This includes a job loss or additional unexpected expenses have arisen outside of normal circumstances, such a medical or dependency changes,” said Roberts.
Most schools will have an application form for special circumstances that you will need to fill out. Policies vary between schools, although most financial aid offices have a set plan of procedures for loss of employment and financial hardships experienced.
If you choose to file an appeal, which is likely what a financial aid officer will suggest, be sure to double-check your initial aid application for errors that may have changed your aid options, she adds.
Be Specific When Appealing for More Financial Aid
Without a specific reason, requesting an appeal on your financial aid package rarely succeeds, says Chana Charach, CFO at Income.ca. “You must be specific about why you require the funds, as well as give evidence to support that need,” she said. Supporting documents may include: bills, unemployment benefits, termination letters and anything else that demonstrates a loss of income and the need for more assistance. “Remember to include information in your appeal letter, such as your job title, the terrible event that brought you to the appeal, and where the money would go to assist you to pay for college. You’ll pave the way for the financial assistance office to whip up some more aid for you if you’re particular.”
Look Into Grants and Work-Study
Beyond the standard forms of financial aid, such as student loans and scholarships, there are numerous other sources of financial aid, according to John Ross, CEO of Test Prep Insight, an online education company.
“If you’ve tapped your student loans and are in need of more aid…many universities provide grant money and their own work-study programs — you just need to ask,” said Ross. “If your school has a work-study program, ask how you can get involved. Working part-time while attending school is a great way to fund your education without having to pay back significant sums later.”
Additionally, he says many schools receive federal and state grants. “There may be opportunities for free money that some students don’t even know about.”
Seek Aid From Your Degree Program
Beyond the general college financial aid office, Ross encourages students to speak to the program of their degree. “For example, if you’re majoring in nursing, go visit the School of Nursing’s administrative office. Oftentimes if you’re studying towards a certain major, that department will have departmental specific scholarship money, grant funds and other opportunities for students.”
“The most important thing is that you ask. You can’t be shy when it comes to financial aid, as it is the busy body students who get the aid money. So don’t be nervous, just ask away.”
Ask For Additional Merit Scholarship Money
“Do not accept an offer of admission to a school without first asking for additional merit scholarship money,” said Rachel Coleman, an independent education consultant at CollegeEssayEditor.com.
“It’s entirely possible that the answer is no, and that’s fine, but you lose your leverage if you accept the offer of admission without first asking for more money. Calling the admissions office and saying something along the lines of, “If I receive $10,000 more in merit aid, my parents say I can send in my enrollment deposit today,” will make the admissions officer consider the student’s request seriously, and decide what’s in their school’s budget to get the student to a “yes,” which is their ultimate goal.”
She recommends using the tool www.collegedata.com, which posts each university’s average aid award.
If you have not received any merit-based aid and your aid is need-based, it’s important to read about each school’s stated criteria for amending their financial aid awards, she says. These criteria are published on the Financial Aid Office’s website and typically include circumstances that would change a family’s financial status like: unexpected medical expenses, a parent losing a job, adding a new dependent to the family, etc. Once you have reviewed the school’s criteria, you need to submit a “Financial Aid Appeal Request” along with documentation.
Leverage One Offer of Aid for Another
If you have received a merit-based scholarship or award but it’s still not enough to cover your needs, you can use that offer to negotiate a better one from another comparable school, according to Svetlana Dotsenko, founder and CEO of Lever Tutoring, a college admissions firm.
“For students who have better financial offers from comparable universities, the process has been the easiest. Several Ivy Leagues have explicitly told my students that they would match the offers from other ‘peer institutions.’ Other universities have also expressed willingness to match the offers of others.”
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