Financial Aid Appeals During The Pandemic

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis, financial aid is more negotiable this year. Some families can ask for more money to pay for college.

All across the country, the financial aid offices at nearly all the top colleges and best universities have been experiencing a huge flood of financial aid appeals. These financial aid appeals have been coming from students whose families have been laid off, furloughed or suffered a significant reduction in pay or hours as the COVID-19 disease death toll continues rising.

Many of the 36 million who have filed for unemployment over the last two months are college students themselves, or have children who are either currently enrolled in college or already planning to start college in the fall. Financial aid for students this fall is determined by the federal taxes that their families have filed two years ago, as was submitted on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which do not reflect their current ability to pay for college.

The financial aid appeal is a request for additional financial aid, a better offer or higher grant amount. This is often requested due to a major life event in the family.

Eltan Johnson, an incoming freshman student at Rutgers University—New Brunswick in New Jersey, shares that he’s submitted an appeal for additional aid for the fall semester.

The FAFSA isn’t a fair representation of what my mother is able to pay for college. My mother is a school teacher and she had a reduction in salary due to the [COVID-19] pandemic… She won’t be able to pay as much as she was going to pay before the pandemic,” says Johnson.

It is predicted that there will be a rise in appeals throughout the upcoming Fall 2020 semester and beyond.

The first step in filing an appeal is to contact the financial aid office at the college a student is attending or schools a prospective student is considering. Appeals can be submitted at any time and for a wide range of reasons.

Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Attainment Network, says, “What I expect to see is professional judgment requests. These are when a student contacts their financial aid office and explains they’ve had a change in circumstance, say a parent’s job loss, and they ask that their family contribution be reconsidered.”

“This [may] be job loss or medical expenses, for example, both of which will be common following COVID-19,” says Cook.

Families that have had a change in their financial situation may be able to successfully appeal for more financial aid. As college enrollment projections shoot downwards for Fall 2020, there is a chance that schools will be more generous with appeals than they have been in the past.

Shannon Vasconcelos, a director of college finance at Bright Horizons College Coach, says, “The big elephant in the room for colleges is that they are struggling financially, and the uncertainty that the coronavirus and the whole economic impact of that has caused for families is making colleges uncertain about filling the seats in their classes. I have seen colleges that were not amenable to negotiations in the past become amenable, and we’re seeing way higher than typical offers as a result of negotiations.”

Vasconcelos also says that families working with her company have been a much higher frequency of successful appeals in the last two months. Families have received anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 or even $10,000 in additional financial aid after making appeals.

After contacting a college’s financial aid office, families must submit a financial aid appeal letter alongside relevant documentation. Experts say it is worth thinking about submitting an appeal during these unique circumstances. Families who have not experienced financial hardship in the past or have had unsuccessful appeals prior can still have a chance for a successful appeal.

“The worst they’ll do is say no, and at least you tried. But they very often say yes. And this year more than ever, they are saying yes,” says Vasconcelos.

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