The financial aid process can be confusing during any college admissions period, but it's become particularly challenging due to the coronavirus pandemic. High school seniors and transfer students who thought their financial aid packages were sufficient may now need more money, and high school juniors who are preparing to apply for aid this fall have multiple questions about the process.
To address three of the most common questions that we've received recently, College Confidential sat down with Autumn Haile of financial aid platform Frank to get clear answers that might help as you navigate this complex process.
How to Request More Aid
Question: I have already gotten financial aid offers, but I'm now facing different financial circumstances due to the coronavirus. Do I need to totally redo the FAFSA or just appeal for more aid?
Haile: You do not need to redo your FAFSA, but you should contact your school's financial aid office immediately. If you explain that your current financial situation has changed drastically, they'll have you go through either an aid appeal or professional judgment process. Generally, you're eligible for aid appeal if you meet one of the below qualifying factors:
- Academic/merit-based achievements
- You have multiple college/university offers
- You live in a multi-college student household
- You or your parents have experienced a significant loss of income
- The recent death of a member of the immediate family (parent, guardian, sibling)
- You've accrued recent medical bills over $10,000
- You've recently been the victim of a national disaster
If you qualify, aid appeal can be done in just four steps:
- Write and edit your aid appeal letter
- Gather your supporting documents (proof of loss of income, medical bills, awards, etc.)
- Email your letter and documents to your financial aid office(s)
- Wait for the school's decision
If you need help writing an aid appeal letter, consider using a template or asking a friend or family member to help you draft and edit one.
It's important to understand that appealing your aid does not necessarily mean you will be granted more, but it is the first step toward hopefully getting some additional support.
Consider Outside Scholarships
Question: Is it worth it to apply for outside scholarships, or are those like winning a lottery to get one?
Haile: It's almost always worth applying for outside scholarships if you need to fill in a funding gap that financial aid hasn't fulfilled. There are hundreds and thousands of scholarships available for everything from your hair color to your genetic background.
When you go through the scholarship search process, you can increase your chances of winning by applying to a mix of large and small scholarships. Honestly, the more you apply to, the better your chances of winning one or a few.
It might not seem like it's worth the effort to apply for a scholarship that's only a few hundred dollars, but think about in terms of the money you need for books or parking.
A single scholarship could help you cover costs you might otherwise need to use loan money for. And when you consider the interest that a loan accumulates, an average of $9,439 for a 10-year loan, you're saving way more money in the long run by investing your time in scholarship applications.
Know Which Parent's Income to Claim on FAFSA
Question: My parents are divorced and I will be filling out the FAFSA this fall. Do I need financial info from both of them or just one? And if it's just one, who do I choose?
Haile: Your custodial parent is the one who should fill out the FAFSA. That's the parent is the one you've lived with for the majority of the last year (12 months). If you've lived with both parents equally, you'll need the parent that has provided the most financial support to put their information on the FAFSA.
For example, if your parents are divorced and you spend five days a week with one parent and two days a week with the other, the parent you spend five days a week with would fill out their information. If you spend half the week with one, half the week with the other, you'll need the parent that provides the most financial support to complete the form.
Some schools may ask that the non-custodial parent supply some income on a separate form; however, the school will let you know if that's the case.