What to do if your financial aid award changes

Learn three major factors that impact your aid, plus what to do if your award unexpectedly decreases.

…

Last year your family applied for college financial aid. You got your package of grants, work-study, and/or loans and settled into your school year. However, you just opened your financial aid award letter for the next school year, and it’s a lot less. What’s the scoop? And is there anything you can do about it?

It is possible to appeal to your school’s financial aid office for more help. However, whether or not they’ll say yes depends a lot on why your aid changed. So first, it’s good to understand:

  • Why your aid offer can change each year.
  • What factors determine your financial aid award.

Financial aid is a year-by-year process

Applying for financial aid isn’t a one-time deal. To be eligible for grants, work-study, loans, and some scholarships, you and your parents must submit a FAFSA and/or CSS Profile form every year.

Many students get just about the same amount of financial aid each year. But a few things can make a big difference in your award.

Factors that affect your aid package

Schools depend on the information you and your parents supply on your yearly FAFSA or CSS Profile. The major factors that affect your aid amount include:

  • Income: Money you and your parents receive from jobs and other sources.
  • Unusual expenses for your family: Things like paying for your aging grandparents’ living expenses or large medical bills.
  • Assets: The amount of money, property, or other valuable items your family reports.
  • Your sibling enters or leaves college. The aid your family qualifies for can increase or decrease if you have a sibling enter or leave school while you’re attending.

If any of these categories increase or decrease in value significantly from one year to the next, it could affect your aid. For example, if your mom took a new job with a huge pay raise, your family income probably went way up. That could make you eligible for less aid.

Other reasons your offer may have changed

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out why your financial aid offer is so much lower. In that case, talk to a school financial aid representative. It may be due to one of the reasons below:

  • You won a new grant or scholarship: Some schools automatically reduce your loans and work-study award for the year if you qualify for grants/scholarships. This is good news!
  • You’re taking fewer than 15 credits per term: If you have a light credit load, your school may reduce your financial aid to match it. Your school could even adjust your aid award in the middle of a semester if you drop classes.
  • Your family filed for aid late or not at all: Many state-sponsored financial aid awards are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Your application may have arrived too late. And if you never filed a FAFSA/CSS Profile, you’re out of luck. Schools can’t give out aid without those forms.

What you can do

Make an appointment with your school’s financial aid administrators. Depending on why your aid changed, they may be able to help.

For example, maybe there’s a mistake on your financial aid application that you can fix. Or perhaps your family’s income increased, but it was because of a one-time work bonus that won’t happen again. Your financial aid office may take that into consideration.

And don’t forget: If your family’s financial situation changes significantly, talk to a school financial aid representative right away. You can do this any time of year. You don’t have to wait for the next financial aid filing period.

Are you ready for college? Use our tracker to find out.