The financial aid you receive is based on your family’s income from two years ago. But, with coronavirus and millions of jobs being lost, your family’s ability to pay for college may have changed drastically. If your financial situation has changed due to coronavirus (or any other reason), you can appeal to get more financial aid to pay for college.

There are many special circumstances that can change how much financial aid you are awarded.

  • If you have experienced job loss or a decrease in income due to coronavirus, you may be able to get additional aid. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, job loss, furloughs and pay cuts were the most common reasons to appeal for more financial aid and the most likely to be approved.
  • Job loss due to the pandemic may also lead to dislocated worker status on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), qualifying the applicant for the simplified needs test and auto-zero EFC.
  • If you have unreimbursed medical expenses, you could also apply to get more financial aid. The impact of medical leave on income might also justify an appeal. 

It’s best to appeal for additional financial aid as soon as possible. You can appeal for more financial aid at any time, not just when you file the FAFSA. There are also many free resources for college students right now to help anyone impacted by COVID-19. 

How to Appeal for More Financial Aid

Mark Kantrowitz, Publisher of Savingforcollege.com and author of the book, How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid, outlines how to apply for additional financial aid.

To appeal for more financial aid for college, follow these steps:

Call the college financial aid office to ask about the appeals process. Depending on the college, the appeals process might be called a professional judgment review, a special circumstances review or a financial aid appeal. The college may ask you to complete a form that addresses the most common situations. Most colleges ask the family to write an appeal letter.

Identify the special circumstances that affect your ability to pay for college. The special circumstances are the reasons why you are appealing for more financial aid. You might have just one special circumstance, or you might have several, but you need to have at least one. Wanting more money is not sufficient justification for a financial aid appeal. The special circumstances provide the reasons why you need more money. Focus on needs, not wants.

Write an appeal letter. Keep the letter concise, limiting it to one or two pages. The letter should summarize the special circumstances and their financial impact on the family. If there is more than one special circumstance, provide a bulleted list of the special circumstances, with one special circumstance per bullet. Organize the special circumstances according to the financial impact, listing the most significant special circumstance first. 

Be specific, especially concerning dates and the financial impact. Emphasize when a special circumstance is due to factors beyond your family’s control. College financial aid administrators are less likely to approve changes that are due to discretionary choices, such as lifestyle expenses. Include your contact information on the letter, in case the financial aid office has follow-up questions.

Don’t ask for a specific amount of money. The change in your financial aid package will be based on the financial impact of the special circumstances on the family, not how much money you are requesting. Requesting a specific amount of money might cause you to get less money than you really need. Some colleges will give you additional financial aid based on the calculated change in financial need or the amount you asked for, whichever is less.

Be polite, as there is no appeal beyond the college financial aid administrator. You cannot appeal to the college president or to the U.S. Department of Education. Congress delegated the authority to make adjustments to the data elements on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to the college financial aid administrator, and only the college financial aid administrator. Close the letter by thanking the college financial aid administrator for their consideration of your appeal.

Gather independent third-party documentation of the special circumstances. Examples of documentation include copies of layoff notices, medical/dental bills, bank and brokerage account statements, receipts, and letters from people who are familiar with the family’s situation. Letters should ideally be written by people who are unrelated to the family, such as teachers, school counselors, social workers, doctors and police. Letters from priests, rabbis, pastors, imams and other clergy can also be helpful. The documentation must be related to the special circumstances.

Complete any forms required by the college financial aid office. These forms are designed to gather details about the special circumstances and other aspects of the family’s financial situation. Most colleges perform a holistic review of the family’s financial circumstances as part of an appeal for more financial aid.

Attach copies of documentation to the appeal letter. Do not send originals, as they will not be returned. At many colleges, the documentation will be imaged and then shredded.

Mail the letter, documentation and forms to the college’s financial aid office. It is best to send the letter with delivery confirmation or by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you have proof that the letter was received. Send the letter to each of the colleges to which the student has applied, since each college performs its own review of the financial aid appeal.

Follow-up by calling each college’s financial aid office a week after mailing the appeal letters, to confirm receipt. Ask the college financial aid office if they need any more information.

If you have been impacted by coronavirus, you can also pause your student loan payments.