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Financial Aid Primer: #10. When A Financial Aid Package Isn’t Enough

What happens if your financial aid award isn’t enough?  You can try to appeal the package directly with the school’s financial aid office.  Financial aid officers can exercise something called Professional Judgment (PJ).  This enables them to make adjustments to the data elements on the FAFSA and thereby change the determination of the Expected Family Contribution.

These FAFSA adjustments can be made because the financial aid administrator takes the time to more sensitively assess the family’s financial strengths and weaknesses. Financial aid officers will typically request additional and more current information about the family’s situation so that there are new numbers to work with.

While each school will have somewhat different guidelines for how the PJ process works, the family will almost always need to document in writing their request for a reassessment of the financial situation.  The family will also need to specify what has changed in their circumstances to warrant the appeal as well as send in supporting documentation that can potentially quantify the change in circumstances.  Examples of changes in circumstances could include but are not limited to:

  • Sizable and unexpected medical bills
  • Loss of employment
  • Change in parental marital status

Note that special circumstances must be true hardships, not just overspending!  Buying a new, expensive car that depletes your savings, for example, isn’t a reason for a school to give you more financial aid.  Schools are not prone to bargaining for bargaining’s sake, but will exercise PJ if they are provided with a solid, non-emotional, and data-based appeal.  So, if your financial aid package falls short, be sure to contact the financial aid office at the college of your choice and see if they’ll review your personal circumstances more closely and exercise some professional judgement in your favor.

Andrea Aronson

College Admissions Advisor

Westfield, NJ

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