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4 Steps to Getting More Financial Aid

Every year, colleges send out award letters based on the information that students put on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms. If your financial aid package is less than what you expected it to be, you may be able to squeeze out a few more dollars by appealing the school’s decision. There are some steps you’ll need to take, but the extra effort could be worth it.

1. Compare Award Packages

If you applied to more than one college or university, you probably received financial aid award notices from all of them. Take a minute or two to see whether you’re being low-balled across the board. If your dream school is the only one that doesn’t seem willing to part with more money, there may have been an error that happened when your application was processed. At the very least, you have a bargaining chip since you can prove that there are other colleges who want you to attend their schools.

2. Contact the Financial Aid Office

Every school handles appeals differently, so it’s important to make sure you’re following the proper protocol. You can call the financial aid office and ask whether there’s a formal appeals process. If there is, you’ll need to jump through whatever hoops they require to get the ball rolling. If the school doesn’t have any specific guidelines on appealing awards, it’s a good idea to ask to meet with a financial aid adviser in-person.

3. Build Your Case

While universities can use discretion in deciding whether to increase a student’s award package, they don’t just go around handing out money willy nilly. If you want a good shot at getting your request granted, you’re probably going to need a solid argument to back it up.

Schools often increase grant or scholarship funding for students whose financial situations have changed. If your parents have gotten divorced or have seen their incomes drop substantially since you first filled out the FAFSA, you might be able to persuade the financial aid office that you deserve more money.

If you’re appealing based on a change in circumstances, be prepared to prove that the amount your family is expected to pay toward your education isn’t feasible. For instance, if one of your parents lost their job you’d probably need to show proof of an unemployment claim. If they were out of work because of an illness, then the school might want to see copies of medical records or doctor bills.

4. Apply for Outside Awards

If you can’t convince the financial aid office that you need more assistance, you have a few options.

You can attend the school that’s offering you a better financial aid package. But if you’re dead set on going to the school that won’t budge, you could apply for outside awards. There are private scholarships and grants available. Some are open to all while others may be only for those with a financial need. Some programs will require students to meet specific eligibility requirements, like having a certain family heritage, having completed a lot of community service hours or having a GPA.

If you don’t qualify for any other merit or need-based awards, you may have to take out student loans. If you have to finance your degree, you might want to look at federal loan programs first since they tend to carry lower rates and typically have more flexible repayment terms than private loans.

If you want more help with this decision and others relating to your financial health, you might want to consider hiring a financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with top financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She's worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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