Financial Aid Award: What to Do When You Need More

Can you get a better financial aid award if you are laid off from your job?

That’s the question that many parents, including my sister Julie and brother-in-law Mike are grappling with right now. Last night, I got a call from Mike, who recently received a financial aid award letter from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, where my niece Molly hopes to attend.

Financial Aid Award

Molly’s financial aid award contained $17,505 in grants from the school and the state of Missouri, which probably sounds pretty good. There is, however, a problem. The private Jesuit school costs more than $34,000 and Julie and Mike’s Expected Family Contribution is in the $6,000 range. The Expected Family Contribution or EFC is what the financial aid formula suggests a family can realistically afford to pay for one year in college.

Layoffs and Financial Aid

And there’s more…my sister got laid off from her teaching job at a Catholic high school, which was experiencing declining enrollment, at the end of the last school year. The family is looking at a huge gap between what the government says they can afford to pay and what the school is willing to contribute in financial aid grants.

What Can You Do?

So what should parents do when the financial aid award isn’t providing an accurate picture of a family’s finances? I had told my sister and brother-in-law that their situation is what’s considered a “special circumstance.” I’ve been mentioning the same thing to other parents who have been emailing me lately about their layoffs.

Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

Start by writing a financial aid appeal letter since a layoff or other financial crisis certainly falls into the “special circumstance” category. I’d recommend that parents write letters to a college and ask for a professional judgment review. Before writing the letter, I’d call the school and get the name of the right person to address your correspondence.

You should include your job loss in the letter, as well as how much your family expects to make in 2010. I’d also attach a copy of your lay-off notice or any other kind of documentation.

I would follow it up with a phone call later to make sure the letter was received. And be very polite since it’s up to the college financial aid office to decide whether to provide a larger financial aid award.

Mike, Julie and Molly will be meeting with a Rockhurst financial aid officer on Friday when he swings through St. Louis. Initial vibes from the office aren’t the greatest. After checking with me, Mike talked to a Rockhurst financial aid officer earlier this month about the FAFSA results being misleading. The officer said the family would have to wait until the next FAFSA filing in 2011 to adjust their EFC. That just isn’t true. Colleges have the right, as I mentioned earlier, to change an award based on new information.

Before you get bad financial aid news from a school, it’s best to see how generous it is before the applications are sent. CollegeInSights provides a great generosity meter for families. As I mentioned in a previous post, CollegeInSights provides financial aid stats for individual schools.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Molly can attend Rockhurst because I think it would be a wonderful fit for her in many ways. But taking on what could be $68,000 or more in debt would be financial suicide. I’ll keep you posted.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and I also write a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.

Special note: I wanted to let everyone know that I will soon be writing yet another college blog – this one for US News & World Report. I’ll let you know when US News kicks it off.

Read More:

How to Avoid 9 FAFSA Form Mistakes

No. 1 FAFSA Myth: College Savers Are Penalized

Let's Connect

Leave a Reply

  1. Ireally don’t know where to go but I need help I had to leave school because of the schools mistake. I now owe them appx. 2200.00 withno way to pay so my education is over I cannot find employment to even help me pay I am willing to clean bathrooms whatever. The pain that this has caused has broken me down to nothing an just ready to give up do you know of anywhere I can get help I have already tried to work out something with the school but they said they want all of their money

    1. Hi Val,

      Sorry to hear of your troubles. If you borrowed money through federal loans there is hope. You can sign up for the federal income-based repayment plan, which will allow you to repay the money based on your current income. Since you are unemployed, you would not pay anything until you get a job. Even then, you would not have to pay the full monthly amount if you end up working at a low-paying job.

      Here are links for more information:

      Here is the income-based repayment calculator: