College Success

Financial Aid Appeals: Reflecting the Reality of COVID-19

A college student works on his computer

For families whose livelihoods have been impacted by the pandemic, higher education may seem increasingly out of reach. But what students may not realize is that a change in their financial circumstances may make them eligible for additional financial aid. When choosing between colleges or even choosing whether to enroll, it’s important that students are aware of their ability to appeal for additional financial aid so they can make a well-informed decision for their future.

Students may be looking to enroll in college for fall 2021, but on paper, the pandemic hasn’t even arrived yet. The 2021-2022 FAFSA is based on 2019 tax information and may not reflect a student’s reality following the hardships of the past year. Based on higher income, students may have been denied the Pell Grant or institutional aid, like grants, scholarships, and work-study – but if their circumstances have changed, they may well qualify today.

The U.S. Department of Education is urging colleges to use professional judgment, their ability to adjust parts of students’ federal financial aid forms to reflect changes in their financial situation. As college success advisors, that means we should encourage students to appeal for additional financial aid if they may qualify. Students should begin the process as soon as possible, ideally right away when their situation changes; the sooner they appeal, the more likely it is that they will receive institutional aid. If their circumstances change significantly after school has started, there still may be resources available. This includes institutional aid, emergency funds, or even opting into loans they had previously declined.

For students, it can be daunting to navigate this process – not to mention difficult. Many students would never have imagined they could ask the financial aid office to reconsider their circumstances and may feel ill-equipped to advocate for themselves in such a high stakes setting. The vocabulary and abundant acronyms related to financial aid can feel like a foreign language, particularly for students who may have never filed their own taxes. For guidance through the process, SwiftStudent is a free resource from Formswift that can help students write their appeals, gather required documents, and understand each step along the way. There are even customizable templates so that students can make sure they’re including all the right information.

Beyond their financial aid appeal, students may also qualify for emergency financial funding as part of the CARES Act. The financial aid office at their college will be able to offer the best guidance to ensure students are taking advantage of all available resources. Advisors can also keep up-to-speed with the latest COVID-19 guidance, including the pandemic’s impact on FAFSA, loans, and interest rates, through the Department of Education website.

For many students, it may seem impossible to enroll in college during a time when their families are experiencing increased financial hardship. But a college degree can help graduates unlock a lifetime of opportunity and prosperity for themselves and their loved ones. By increasing student’s awareness of the option to appeal their financial aid package and supporting them through the process, we can make sure they benefit from all the aid available to support their college journey.