Skip to content

What to Do with a Lousy Financial Aid Package

Apr 20, 2022

The excitement of a college acceptance letter can be quickly replaced with anxiety if the financial award (a.k.a., the Package) is a bust. Here are some tips to evaluate the Package and what to do if it falls short.

The Package may consist of one or more of these three types of aid:

  • Free Money, grants, and scholarships, that do not need to be repaid.
  • Earned Aid, which appears as eligibility for Federal Work Study.
  • Student Loans, which are listed as Federal Direct Loans, and need to be repaid with interest.

This article, “Here’s what you need to know about the current & future FAFSA® form,” discusses how to apply for federal financial aid, which is the starting point for most financial aid.

It’s important to understand: 

  • The total aid offered by the college in the Financial Aid Award letter.
  • How much of each kind of aid is offered? Free money is the only true aid because it does not have to be repaid or earned.
  • If the aid offered covers the full amount of financial need.  Often it does not.  When the total aid is less than the all-in cost of the school minus your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), this is “unmet need,” and it can be substantial.
  • If the aid is a one-time award.  Does it need to be renewed each year? Are there specific requirements to maintain the award?

If the college offers a financial aid package that falls short, the student may appeal the financial aid decision. 

Here are seven tips to help you increase the financial aid award

  1. When asking to be considered for more aid, be polite and courteous — don’t be confrontational. 
    • Frame communications as a request for reconsideration.
    • Don’t use the word “negotiate”.
    • Understand that fact-based requests outlining changes in the family’s financial circumstances are more likely to result in success than emotional “we need more” arguments.
  1. Know the process the school uses to reconsider aid.
    • Contact the financial aid office to ask about how to appeal for more aid.
    • Odds for a successful appeal are better at colleges with more substantial endowments, such as private colleges and flagship public universities.
  1. Review your FAFSA® and/or CSS Profile submissions.
    • Check for mistakes that may have been made in the rush to file. 
    • Perhaps you overstated assets or lost significant assets since filing.
  1. Ask a financial aid administrator if your tax deductions were counted as income.
    • Some schools do not accept all tax deductions and view some as untaxed income.
    • If you know which deductions the school converted to income, it may be possible that your actual financial need is greater than they think.
  1. Write a letter documenting “special circumstances” and any changes in your family’s situation since your FAFSA® and CSS Profile were submitted, such as:
    • Divorce
    • Death of a wage earner
    • Unexpected, unreimbursed medical bills or costs associated with caring for children with special needs 
    • Tuitions for private elementary or secondary schools
    • One-time retirement distribution or payment in the Base Year
    • Necessary major home repairs, such as roof, heating, or windows
  1. Schedule a follow-up meeting or phone call to make your appeal directly to the financial aid administrator.
  1. For new students, showing a more generous financial aid package from a different school may be helpful.
    • It may be possible to get the schools to compete and offer you more aid.
    • It is also likely that the school will look at another school’s offer simply to obtain competitive information about their financial aid process.

Financial Aid administrators want to be helpful, but there is only so much they can do.  Although a decision about how much of the school’s scarce aid they are willing to allocate to your student has already been made, circumstances do change for you and the school. A student’s fact-based appeal and/or a change at the school, i.e. a student to whom the school allocated free-money aid decides not to attend, could result in a more generous financial aid package for your family.