What should I do if my circumstances changed since submitting my financial aid applications?

If you’re going to be asking for more financial aid based on changed economic circumstances, have ample paperwork available to back up your claims and requests. Did someone lose a job or other source of income? Have termination notices, unemployment insurance, or other papers ready. Did your income change? Use budgeting software to graphically illustrate your monthly cash flow, along with things like pay stubs, tax returns, etc.

It’s not enough to ask for more money. That’s way too generic. Ask for specific amounts, ask for specific assistance, and try to know some of the different types of things financial aid administrators are permitted to do. Financial aid administrators are permitted to make professional judgement overrides on:

- future earnings and income. If you can prove that you have had a significant change in income that impacts your ability to pay for college, a financial aid administrator can grant you more assistance. Be prepared with termination notices, tax returns, and every scrap of paper you can find to make your case.

Updated April 2, 2009: The Department of Education has offered additional guidance for this scenario. See this post at FinancialAidNews.com about the changes.

- cost of attendance. If you can prove that expenses in your graduate student budget (transportation, medical, disability, dependents, and a few other select cases) do not reflect your situation, a financial aid administrator can alter your student budget, allowing for additional aid. If you pursue this override, again, be prepared to document every step of the way to show why, for example, traveling to and from your school requires a transportation budget greater than allotted.

- special circumstances. In some cases, graduate students divorce during the financial aid award year, but the FAFSA cannot be changed to reflect the divorce. With appropriate court documentation noting the dissolution of the marriage, a student can ask for a special circumstances override that will let them remove any spousal contributions towards aid.

There are other, more narrow circumstances that apply as well. If you don’t know what to ask for, haul as much documentation to your financial aid administrator as possible so that they have as complete a picture of your finances as possible.


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