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How to write a financial aid appeal letter

The following article is from U.S. News and World Report

April 10, 2019

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Successful Financial aid appeals are rare, experts say. But crafting a good financial aid appeal letter can give students the best chance of getting more money for college.

After receiving an award letter, students may be able to appeal the financial aid package they were given by a specific college. Not all students find themselves in a circumstance that merits writing an appeal letter to request more financial aid, and in some situations appealing could even lower the amount of aid they receive.

But Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research for Savingforcollege.com, says more awareness is needed about appeals.

"Too often families think of the financial aid award letter as being set in stone and not subject to appeal," he says. "The first sign there might be an issue is if the financial aid offer is not merely a harsh assessment of your ability to pay, but an impossible assessment. Chances are there is some bit of information the financial aid office was unaware of when they calculated your financial aid package."

In those cases, families should consider appealing the financial aid offer, he says, noting that an appeal letter should be written by a parent if the student is considered a dependent.

Read: Why Your College Financial Aid Letter May Be Misleading.

Whatever the circumstance, students and their parents typically must demonstrate to financial aid administrators a significant change in their ability to pay for college by providing proof or new information. For families who determine an appeal is the best route, here are tips on how to write a successful financial aid appeal letter:

  • Start by calling the financial aid office.
  • Include specific examples.
  • Gather documentation.
  • Be respectful and honest, and keep it short.
  • Submit the financial aid appeal letter the right way.

Start by Calling the Financial Aid Office

The appeal process can vary across colleges. Some require students to fill out a form in addition to writing an appeal letter, while others don't require a letter at all. For this reason, experts recommend students call the target school's financial aid office before taking any steps toward an appeal.

But students and families should plan to do more than just make a phone call, experts say. A physical letter can be powerful.

"There's a formal process if the student is asking to have their eligibility for aid re-evaluated, because you have to have a reason to be re-evaluated," says Abril Hunt, manager of outreach and financial literacy for Educational Credit Management Corp., a nonprofit based in Minneapolis that aims to promote financial literacy and student success in higher education.

Include Specific Examples

No two financial aid circumstances are the same. Even in situations when two families have a similar event occur that inhibits their ability to pay for college, Kantrowitz says they shouldn't expect the same outcome from an appeal. Colleges and financial aid administrators have significant flexibility in deciding how to respond to appeals.

"Schools are able to practice what is called professional judgment," says Megan Coval, vice president of policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

"This is a process that we think works pretty well right now, and we like the flexibility schools have. If you made it a little more standardized or rigid, you'd run the risk of it being too one size fits all, and there are so, so many different scenarios in which students might appeal or ask for professional judgment to be done. So we think that's in the hands of the financial aid office and the student," she says.

The way families present their financial circumstances can affect the result of an appeal. Experts say parents should list specific circumstances that have an impact on their ability to pay for college in their appeal letters, possibly in a bulleted list. Using a clear bulleted list can help quickly convey the facts of a family's situation in a way that is digestible for financial aid administrators and easy to connect to supporting documentation.

Some of the most common situations that may warrant an appeal are if a parent dies or loses his or her job; if parents get a divorce; if child support has ended; in cases of significant natural disasters that result in losses for the family; in the case of significant medical or dental expenses; if the student has a special needs family member or cares for a special needs child; or if the estimate for commuting and other educational costs is significantly lower than the actual costs, Kantrowitz says.

Families should also explain how the specific circumstance has affected their ability to pay.

The contents of the letter should be different depending on whether the family is hoping to get more need-based or more merit-based aid. If the aid is based on merit, it might be helpful to include more information about a student's GPA and accomplishments, but if it is strictly need-based, experts say that information is unnecessary.

See: 12 Colleges That Give Merit Aid to the Most Students.

Gather Documentation

Providing proof of the specific circumstances listed in the appeal is critical, experts say. If the appeal letter doesn't include any documentation, students and families can expect to get a response from the financial aid office asking for it.

The best kind of documentation families can provide is a document from a third-party source, Kantrowitz says. An example of a good document to include might be a paid medical bill or pay stubs and W-2s showing a decrease in income.

Letters from other sources can also be included, but those from family members may not carry the same weight as one from an outside source with knowledge of the family's financial situation, such as an insurance agent or health professional who can speak to the family's situation.

"It's not just narrative," Hunt says. "You need something in writing to back it up. They won't take your word for it; they need to have some proof of the situation changing or the information being inaccurately reported."

Hunt says if other colleges have offered more generous packages, copies of those offers can be included with the appeal letter.

Read: How to Get the Most Generous Financial Aid Package From Your College.

Be Respectful and Honest, and Keep it Short

An appeal letter should include other information beyond specific examples of financial changes or hardships. A parent should thank the financial aid office for its consideration, and write briefly about the student's excitement to attend the institution.

Experts say families should never lie about their financial need or treat the process like a negotiation.

While the financial aid appeal letter should include specific details, Kantorwitz warns: "Don't tell them your entire life story."

For an appeal of need-based financial aid, writing a long narrative or including too many details are unlikely to help a student's chances. The most important elements of the letter, experts say, are often the examples and corresponding proof.

"Processors really don't have the time to read long letters like that, so I would say be succinct and to the point." Hunt says. "Stick to the facts."

In his book "How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid," Kantrowitz provides examples of good and bad financial aid appeal letters. Here's an example of what he says a good appeal letter written by a parent might look like:

"Dear Director of Financial Aid,

I am very excited that my daughter, [name of daughter], has been accepted by such a prestigious university. I am proud of her accomplishments.

Unfortunately, there are some unusual aspects of our family's finances that make it difficult for my daughter to afford to enroll, despite your generous financial aid offer.

* I am a single parent, raising three daughters on my own. My husband died last year, after a long battle with cancer.

* Our family income has decreased significantly in the last two years. Besides the loss of my husband's income, I was laid off by my employer and had to accept a job at a much lower salary after six months on unemployment. Also, my income two years ago included a big one-time bonus that obviously will not be repeated.

* I am still making payments on a significant amount of medical debt. The insurance company did not cover all of the costs of my husband's cancer treatment because it included therapies that were classified as experimental by the insurance company. The COBRA payments after my husband lost his job because of the cancer were and remain very high. We also liquidated our small retirement plans to cover the deductibles and co-pays.

* My daughter's Social Security survivor's benefits end next year when she turns 18.

* My daughter's younger siblings are enrolled at a private high school. Although the school has helped with a scholarship after my husband's death, it doesn't cover full tuition. I thought about sending them to public school because the expense is no longer affordable, but I don't have the heart to do that to them after they lost their father. I don't want them to lose their friends. Plus, our reasons for sending them to a private school are still valid.

I have enclosed copies of documentation of these circumstances, a copy of my pay stubs before and after the job change, a copy of the unemployment benefits, a copy of my husband's death certificate, copies of our medical bills and a copy of this year's federal income tax return.

Your university is my daughter's first choice. I hope you will provide her with more financial aid, so she can afford to enroll at your fine institution. I am sure she will thrive there.

Thank you for your time and consideration."

Submit the Financial Aid Appeal Letter the Right Way

Parents should submit the appeal letter as soon as possible, Kantrowitz says. While experts say it is rare for a student to receive financial aid before being admitted to an institution, Kantrowitz says in most cases parents should submit an appeal letter early, even if financial aid administrators won't respond to it until the student is admitted.

The letter should be mailed, ideally through certified mail that includes delivery confirmation, to the financial aid office in most cases, Kantrowitz says. Parents should confirm the correct address with the institution's financial aid office.

However, families who don't have clear changes to their financial situation but feel they could still get more financial aid through an appeal may want to wait to send the letter, Hunt says.

"They might want to wait until the first round of award letters, after mid-June," Hunt says. "Then the school will have a better idea of what the enrollment numbers will be. And if the school is behind in their enrollment numbers they might be more likely to find an extra couple thousand dollars for the student in order to get their enrollment numbers up."

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.

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Mayor Frey proclaims April 1 "ECMC Group Day" in Minneapolis

April 1, 2019

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Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey signed a proclamation officially recognizing April 1, 2019, as "ECMC Group Day." The proclamation reads:

Mpls Proclamation

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ECMC offers financial tips for adult learners during Financial Capability Month

April 1, 2019

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The nontraditional student is the new normal, with adult learners making up nearly 40 percent of today's higher education population. Returning to school or enrolling in a postsecondary program is a big decision for adult learners, so ECMC is providing tips to help those considering furthering their education keep their finances top-of-mind during Financial Capability Month and beyond.

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What students can do if parents can't—or won't—fill out college-aid forms

The following article is from the Wall Street Journal

March 4, 2019

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Generally, college students have a better shot at financial aid when their parents participate in the application process. But parents aren't always willing or able to fulfill this need.

Lack of information about parents' financial means, however, can severely limit students' eligibility for aid, sometimes leading young people to give up on the prospect of college itself.

Recent legislative proposals could make it easier for some students with extenuating family circumstances to apply for aid. But for now, here are two ways students may be able to navigate the financial-aid process without their parents' financial information:

Option 1: Seek to be declared independent
Students could see if they qualify as "independent" under the rules set up by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which is the government form for financial aid.

Qualifying as independent allows the applicant to be eligible for the maximum amount of federal loans and gift-based aid without providing their parents' financial information, says Abril Hunt, an outreach manager who focuses on financial literacy for Educational Credit Management Corp., a nonprofit that helps students and families plan and pay for college.

Students who don't live with their parents and who pay their own bills and educational expenses aren't automatically considered independent. Qualifying criteria include: being at least 24 years old on or before Dec. 31 of the award year; being a minor who is legally emancipated; being an orphan or veteran; or having a dependent other than a spouse.

Option 2: Go through the dependency-override process
Individual schools can issue what is known as a "dependency override," which allows a student's FAFSA application to be considered without the parent's financial information.

Overrides are generally only granted due to such extenuating circumstances as an abusive family, abandonment, or the incarceration, hospitalization or institutionalization of both parents. Schools can take weeks or months to decide. Meanwhile, the applicants don't have financial-aid packages to compare.

To seek an override, the applicant submits just the student portion of the FAFSA, then must contact each target school to explain why the parents' financial information isn't included, says Ivette Chavez, director of financial services for the Making Waves Foundation's College & Alumni Program, which advises students on financial aid.

Generally, applicants will be asked to provide supporting documentation, such as letters from a community-based organization, school counselor or homeless shelter, or police records that document abuse, Ms. Chavez says.

If an override is denied, the applicant can appeal. Ms. Chavez recommends scheduling an in-person meeting with the school's financial-aid administrators. Additional documents supporting individuals' claims may also help, she says. Dependency overrides are granted for one year at a time.

Meanwhile, there are proposals in Congress to help. The FAFSA Fairness Act of 2019, for example, would ease the financial-aid application process for students dealing with situations such as parental abandonment, abuse and neglect. The bill would allow students who meet certain criteria to complete the FAFSA without their parents' information and receive an estimate of their federal financial-aid award for each school where they apply. They would then go through a verification process at the school they plan to attend.

Students wouldn't have to repeat the verification process each year they apply for aid at that school, with limited exceptions.

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Lynchburg public library hosts workshop on college prep

The following article is from ABC Channel 13 News

February 21, 2019

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The Lynchburg Public Library will host a workshop to help prospective college students in their preparations for college.

"Beyond the SAT," with Danny Eckstein will go over tips and tricks to get accepted and pay for college.

The workshop will help prospective students find and apply for federal financial aid and discuss ways to help pay for school.

Eckstein, director of the Educational Credit Management Corporation, will provide free resources and helpful information to navigate the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process as well as tips on college resume building and work study options.

The workshop will take place in the Community Meeting Room and is free and open to the public.

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