You Still Have Time to Ask Colleges for More Financial Aid

DeRionne Pollard, president of Montgomery College, a three-campus community college in Maryland, said that use of the SwiftStudent tool was invisible to financial aid officials but that it helped students craft a clear, comprehensive appeal.

“It allows and empowers students to advocate for themselves,” Dr. Pollard said.

In a survey last fall, college financial aid counselors reported “notable” increases in requests for professional judgment reviews, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. The group will conduct another survey next month to update its findings.

Here are some questions and answers about financial aid:

I’m confused by my aid letters. How can I make sure I am correctly comparing offers?

Colleges are encouraged to use standard formats for aid letters and avoid jargon, but not all do. Be careful to distinguish between “gift” aid, like grants and scholarships, which doesn’t have to be repaid, and loans, which do. Subtract the gift aid from the college’s cost of attendance — the total cost of tuition, housing, meals, books and supplies — to get a net price. Do this for each school before considering how much of the cost you can cover from savings and earnings, and how much you would have to borrow to cover any shortfall.

A nonprofit group that works to help students afford college with less debt, uAspire, created a free online cost calculator to help applicants make “apples to apples” comparisons of aid offers. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also offers an online tool to compare offers, and the Institute for College Access & Success offers a tip sheet.

And remember: You aren’t obligated to borrow all, or any, of the loans that are included in your aid letter, said Jessica Thompson, associate vice president at the institute. On the other hand, some colleges may not include the maximum amount of federal student loans for which you are eligible. So if you think you may need to borrow more, call the financial aid office to discuss your situation, she said.

What documentation do I need when making a financial aid appeal?

Colleges vary in how they evaluate an appeal. But gather anything that shows reduced hours or wages, like letters from employers, pay stubs or unemployment records, as well as medical bills, to help make your case, Ms. Warick said.

Can I make an enrollment deposit at more than one college?

Colleges frown on this practice since you ultimately can’t attend more than one college, and making two deposits means another student — one on the wait list, or a late applicant — won’t be offered a spot, Mr. Hawkins said. It also works against less affluent applicants, who may be unable to afford more than one deposit. So members of the admission counseling association advise against it, he said.

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