For young adults, choosing the right college and career path can be challenging.

When you consider the cost of tuition, books, room and board, and other educational expenses, it makes sense that future students and their parents have considerable concerns.

While college is a financial investment, there is no better way to invest than to invest in your or your child’s future. But no one wants to go into debt to achieve their educational goals.

Fortunately, the majority of college-bound students qualify for at least some federal student loans.

The right financial aid package can ease stress and allow students to concentrate on their studies, grades, and hobbies rather than finances.

At times, a student may receive less funding than they had anticipated, or their financial situation has changed and they need to appeal for more financial aid.

While it is best to appeal quickly, appeals can be made at any time and at nearly any college or university.

What is FAFSA?

FAFSA stands for free application for federal student aid.

All students should fill out the FAFSA, regardless of their financial circumstances.

The biggest mistake students and their parents can make is assuming they won’t qualify. Federal student aid programs can help most students pay for some or most of their schooling.

Federal student financial aid can include scholarships, grants, work-study jobs, and federal loans and grants. While some of these sources may need to be paid back after graduation, not all will.

Each year, FAFSA forms become available on Oct. 1 and are accepted until June 30, the following year.

The federal deadline may give you a good window of time to apply but it’s best to apply early. Doing so can give you time to appeal if needed and increase the chances of your appeal being accepted.

Since FAFSA uses tax returns from the previous two years, it’s common to write an appeal to receive more funding due to changing financial status. A student and their family’s financial situation can change a lot in two years.

When Can You File a FAFSA Appeal?

Appeals can be filed at any time.

You can request more assistance before courses begin, in the middle of the semester, and even at the end of the school year.

Nearly all colleges and universities will allow financial appeals if students need more assistance.

Sometimes an appeal needs to be made because a student’s financial circumstances change or the cost of attendance is higher than was anticipated. Appeals also allow you to correct any errors that were made on your initial FAFSA form.

Perhaps a parent lost their job, a student’s family was impacted negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic, or they have siblings who need financial assistance.

In these cases, a student should appeal right away, as these are considered special circumstances and their appeal will likely be accepted.

There is no guarantee that an appeal will be approved, but applying as soon as a special circumstance has occurred will increase the chances of acceptance.

If an appeal is accepted, a student will be granted more funding for the current school year. If the special circumstance will affect the student’s finances in subsequent years, they will need to appeal again—appeals only last for one year.

How to File a FAFSA Appeal

Filing a FAFSA appeal isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds.

First, you need to contact the school’s financial aid office and ask them about their appeal process. Typically, a student will need to complete a form and write a short summary that addresses which special circumstances affect them and their family.

Some universities will ask a student’s family to write a letter confirming there was a special circumstance, and why they need more funding.

A student’s appeal will not be accepted unless they have at least one special circumstance.

While it can be stressful, be polite and professional when appealing and thank the financial aid administrator for their time and help.

They are not the ones who decide whether a student receives federal student loans or not, the United States government does.

Common reasons to submit a special circumstance appeal include:

  • Death of a parent or spouse
  • Divorce or separation of a dependent student’s parent
  • Job loss or change in income
  • Special needs or disabled children
  • End of child support, social security benefits for a child or alimony
  • High medical and dental expenses not covered by insurance
  • Disability of parent or spouse
  • Natural disaster affecting the home
  • Unusual or unexpected farm expenses
  • Parents cannot be located/no contact with any parent
  • Change in housing status
  • Textbook costs beyond the standard allowance in the cost of attendance
  • Dependent care (e.g. daycare, elderly care) expenses
  • Change in the student’s marital status
  • Dependency override

What to Do if Your Appeal is Denied

You may need to explore other ways to pay for your college tuition and fees if your appeal is denied.

Federal student aid is a great first option and will likely provide you with some funding, but it may not cover all of your education expenses.

Some students whose appeals are denied realize they can still afford their university of choice, but need to live at home or find a roommate. Room and board costs are not covered by federal student aid.

It may not be ideal, but you should prepare alternative funding options in the case that your appeal is denied. Such options include:

  • Apply for a private student loan
  • Find private or federal grants
  • Look for as many scholarships as you can
  • Tap into your savings account
  • Ask family members for financial help
  • Consider a less expensive school

If you start your college education at an affordable community college, you can save money and transfer to a university later on.

Many students enjoy this route, as it saves them thousands of dollars in the long run by getting their degree prerequisites done at a fraction of the price of university classes.