This can happen. The FAFSA relies on two-year-old tax information. Or your family may be facing big expenses that the FAFSA didn’t ask about.
Don’t wait until you get an acceptance letter from the college to speak up. After you submit your college applications, reach out to the schools’ financial aid offices to explain your situation.
Or if you’ve been accepted, but the financial help is too low, call today.
Good reasons to ask for more financial aid
It never hurts to ask for more aid. But some reasons may be more persuasive than others, such as if your family’s current situation looks a lot different than the information you reported on your FAFSA.
Over the last year or two:
- You or a family member had extreme medical expenses
- You or your parents became unemployed or experienced a significant drop in income
- You or your parents faced high expenses (or had to take unpaid time off) to care for a family member
In the tax year reported on your FAFSA, your family reported much higher income than now because:
- They took money out of a retirement account (most retirement withdrawals count as income).
- The money withdrawn from the retirement account was used to cover bills and other costs related to dire circumstances (see the examples above).
- That extra money was a one-time bump in income that won’t be repeated.
If these examples apply to you, call or email the college financial aid offices to explain your situation. Then ask them what to do next.
A financial aid officer will let you know what kind of proof they’ll need and how you should submit it. Colleges will probably want to see something in writing, either by email or regular mail.
How to follow up in writing with your documentation
- Whatever you told the financial aid officer over the phone, restate it in the email or letter.
- Describe whatever proof you’re submitting. For example, after explaining your circumstances, you may write: “Enclosed are (or attached are) copies of… “ and then list the documents.
- Make sure to include copies of all documents you listed. Depending on your circumstances, they may include medical bills, unemployment checks, recent payslips or W-2 forms showing a lower salary than what was reported on the FAFSA, and so forth.
- If some of the information you are sharing is sensitive (such as a detailed diagnosis on a medical bill) you can cover up that part with a black marker.
If you’re uncomfortable writing an email or letter, ask for help!
- First, talk with your parents. See what they can do to help you out. The colleges may want to hear from you first, followed up by a letter from one of your parents explaining the situation.
- If you’re a high school student, reach out to your college or guidance counselor for help. Or a family friend may be willing to help as well.
- Did someone help you with your college essays? Ask them to help you draft an email or letter to the financial aid office.
- Are you a current college student? Ask your school advisor for help or for suggestions about who on campus could help you.
- Check out your local library. Some public libraries offer assistance with college applications. They may have volunteers or staff members who can help you.
Laura Zingmond is the editor of InsideSchools.org and a seasoned veteran of the college financial aid system. Ask her anything about the FAFSA or CSS Profile.