What to Do If Finances Change During Your College Search

Elizabeth French/College Confidential

If you're seeking money for college, it's likely that you will apply for financial aid. This typically means filling out the FAFSA and entering your family's financial information. Colleges and universities then use that information to figure out the family's expected family contribution and to determine the student's financial aid package.

For the coming academic year, you'll use information from 2018 tax returns for financial aid application purposes. However, sometimes a family's financial situation changes, such as a parent losing a job or going from full-time to part-time employment. Many families wonder what happens if your financial situation changes after you have filled out the FAFSA and have applied to colleges.

Contact the School

If you're in this situation, your first order of business is to reach out to the schools where you applied. "Any time there is a change to the admitted student's financial situation, they should contact each college or university's financial aid office directly. Often, there is a process for students to share their special circumstances which might lead to changes in the financial aid offer," says Robert F. Durkle, associate vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio.

Durkle explains that most higher education institutions have a form that a family can fill out to list how their financial situation has changed, which includes reporting updated figures for income.

"Only the college or university has the ability to go back and reevaluate a student's financial situation based upon special circumstances; it is up to the university or college to decide if they can use 2019 information rather than the 2018 information that is on the FAFSA," he says.

Students should contact the financial aid offices at the institutions where they're applying, but they do not have to fill out a new FAFSA. Institutions will use the 2018 information on the FAFSA, and if finances have changed, each institution will decide if they can use the newer information when calculating the financial aid package.

Colleges Typically Respond Quickly

"Universities have discretionary measures that they can use 2019 information if there as a been a loss of income or savings in which financial resources have changed," says Durkle. Typically, once the student explains their circumstances, the colleges respond pretty quickly about whether they can alter the financial aid packages based on the new information, according to Durkle.

"Colleges know students are making decisions about which college to attend, and they don't want to lose a student to a different college if they take too long to get back to them," he says.

So if your financial situation has changed since filling out your FASFA, don't worry. Contact the financial aid office of each institution where you're applying, ask what their procedures are in this situation (such as what form to fill out and what documentation is needed), and wait to hear back about a possible revised financial aid package before you make your final decision about where to enroll.