For millions of students whose parents are suddenly out of work, paying for college has become much more difficult. The financial aid forms you filled out in the fall – or even in February – don’t capture the effects of this spring’s pandemic.
Fortunately, students can claim updated rewards by submitting a special circumstances appeal to their college’s financial aid office. If your family has experienced a significant financial change, whether or not related to the coronavirus, financial aid experts advise you to contact your school office. Here’s how to do it.
Make sure your FAFSA is filed
First of all: a college can’t review your financial aid if you haven’t filled out the correct forms, says John Falleroni, senior associate director of financial aid at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
Every school requires the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), and some private colleges also use a form called a CSS Profile. These financial aid forms determine your “Expected family contribution” using tax information from two years earlier. After filing, colleges have the opportunity to exercise their “professional judgment” and revise your CEF if you are able to document measurable differences.
Remember, you still need to use your 2018 tax return, even if your income was very different from your current finances – this is where the appeals process comes in.
Ask your financial aid office about their process
Each college has an established process for filing an appeal. Find out about yours by checking online or contacting the financial aid office. Find the required forms and a list of acceptable documents to verify your situation.
Some colleges may have an appeal form designed specifically for the pandemic. The University of Washington is developing a separate appeal form that provides details for filing due to loss of coronavirus that should be easier to complete, said Kay Lewis, executive director of financial aid at the UW. Students can choose the regular form or the coronavirus-specific form, whichever works best for their situation.
If a college’s form doesn’t fully reflect your situation, you should include a short letter explaining your situation, says Vicki Beam, founder of Michigan College Planning. “The financial aid office is looking for the facts,” she said. “I encourage students to itemize all the financials they can, but it is imperative that students paint a picture of what’s going on.”
For information, SwiftStudent, a new online financial aid appeal service launched in April, provides free, personalized appeal letter templates for different scenarios. The website guides students step-by-step through the process of requesting additional help and can be particularly useful if your school does not have an official appeal form.
Gather the relevant documents
Supporting documents will vary depending on your situation, but they could include proof of unemployment benefits from a parent, final pay stub, termination letter, or medical or childcare bills. If you are not sure, ask the financial aid office.
Falleroni warns that a parent who collects unemployment benefits does not automatically mean that income has changed enough for an attribution review. “Temporary leave, unemployment benefits, plus the extra $ 600 a week might not mean a big drop in family finances,” he says.
Understanding the types of money available
It is difficult to predict whether your application will be approved. There are no recent statistics available to the public on the number of financial aid appeals accepted. And if you are successful, the amount of additional financial aid you can expect depends on your needs and what your college has to offer. A small number of colleges are able to meet all of their students’ financial needs. But most have a limited budget for scholarships and grants.
Even though your college has paid out all of its institutional financial aid, some schools have started fundraising campaigns to raise additional funds to help defray the costs of students with unforeseen financial needs this year. The University of West Virginia recently launched a new campaign to raise unrestricted scholarship funds for the coming year. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund, launched last month, extends into the fall for housing, tuition and other costs.
Federal financial aid, on the other hand, is available almost anytime during the academic year for eligible students. This includes Pell scholarships for low and moderate income students and low cost student loans.
If an aid administrator revises your expected family contribution to reflect your current finances, you may fall within the range to qualify for a partial or full Pell grant. A full-time student with an EFC of $ 5,711 or less will get some level of Pell funding next year – the exact amount depends on your level of need and the cost of your program. But if your CFE is already at $ 0, your Pell Grant will not be increased beyond the 2020-2021 maximum of $ 6,345.
While almost all students are eligible for federal unsubsidized student loans, a lower CFE can also give you access to federal subsidized personal loans. These are reserved for students with financial need, usually determined by a CEF lower than the cost of attendance. Subsidized loans don’t earn interest while you’re in school, saving you hundreds of dollars a year compared to unsubsidized loans. (Note that most federal student loans, including unsubsidized loans, have a 0% interest rate until the end of September.)
Finally you could get state aid if your state’s financial aid budget is not exhausted. Many states have FAFSA spring deadlines for calculating state aid, but some have extended theirs, including Delaware, Kansas, Nebraska, and New Jersey. California colleges encourage students to appeal to determine if their eligibility for the program Cal Grant changed. And Washington State awards the Washington College scholarship, which is based on the cost of college and your family’s size and income, as needed throughout the school year.
Consider the timing of your request
The pandemic is creating exceptionally fluid situations for many families, experts say. If your parents’ job is in limbo and you can’t provide solid information on the school form right now, you may have to wait until your situation becomes clearer, Lewis says. Normally, she doesn’t recommend waiting, but in the case of the coronavirus, it may be necessary to wait until early summer, say, when states are more open and job prospects more evident. It’s a balancing act of getting solid information about your finances while not running out of cash.
Colleges are reluctant to make big changes to a student’s CFE with just a month or two of job information, Lewis says. But if your family has already experienced a few months of job loss, that’s enough time for the financial aid offices to plan a new family contribution as your income drops. If your situation is still fluid, you are not a loser. Schools accept special occasion calls throughout the year, so you can submit one once your situation has solidified.
However, if your situation is clear now – for example, a parent has been permanently laid off – file your appeal as soon as possible as some types of help are limited. If a freshman isn’t comfortable embarking on college without an updated financial aid scholarship, you should also submit your appeal now with a better estimate of your long-term financial impact. , said Lewis.
Explore other sources of money
After your appeal is filed, follow up to make sure the financial aid office has everything they need from you to avoid delays in the process. So be prepared to wait. The delay varies according to the schools, from two to eight weeks, according to the experts. Some schools are still responding to emergency requests for the spring term and haven’t had time to process the fall call letters, Lewis says.
Whether you’ve already filed an appeal or are planning to do so in the future, look for additional sources of money now. Students in the upper division can check with their departments for scholarships in their field of study. Also check with local organizations and alumni groups.
Since special circumstance appeals apply for need-based assistance, the new freshman may also ask the admissions office for the possibility of additional merit assistance if the school offers it, especially if you can demonstrate better test scores or scores.
Come fall, check back with your school to learn more about money from donations and coronavirus fundraising campaigns.
“Who knows what will be available next school year, but students should check,” Lewis says.
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