This article is from the Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Fellowships FAQ, by Mark Kantrowitz with numerous contributions by others.
Most family complaints about insufficient financial aid derive from
the practice of "need gapping" described in section . There is
little that can be done about this, other than applying for
scholarships and fellowships, working during the school year and
summer, and applying for educational loans.
Howerver, if there is a significant discrepancy between the amount of
aid awarded and your financial need, perhaps you didn't bring some
special circumstances to the attention of the financial aid
administrator. Make an appointment to review your financial situation
with a counselor in the financial aid office, especially if your
family circumstances have changed since the financial forms were
filed. If the circumstances warrant, they may be able to adjust the
amount of financial aid for which you qualify. This process is known
as Professional Judgment (PJ). For most families, however, the
increase will be limited to the amount of educational loans, with the
institutional grants remaining unchanged.
There are several special circumstances that families sometimes forget
1. Affecting the cost of attendance:
+ Unusually high supply costs (e.g., art students)
+ Child care expenses
+ Expenses related to a disability (e.g., braille machine
and readers for blind students, transportation expenses
for handicapped students)
+ Health insurance for students who are no longer covered by
their parents' health plan.
2. Affecting the parent contribution:
+ Death of a parent
+ Unemployment of a parent for 10 weeks or more
+ Change in income due to a change of jobs, a reduction in
the number of hours worked, or retirement
+ Loss or reduction of alimony and child support received (or an
increase in alimony and child support payments)
+ Divorce or separation of parents after submission of the
+ Loss or reduction of disability and unemployment benefits
+ Losses due to natural disasters, such as floods, tornados,
hurricanes, and mine subsidence
+ Unusual medical/dental and nursing home expenses
+ Child care expenses
+ Casualty and theft losses
If you encounter these circumstances, you may need to provide
estimated income information on your financial aid form instead of
relying on the past year's financial information.
If there aren't any special circumstances, but the financial aid
administrators awarded you less aid than you think you need, you're
probably wondering how you will be able to afford your education. Here
are a few suggestions:
1. Consider a home equity loan. A home equity loan lets you borrow
against the equity in your home, and you can deduct the
interest on your taxes. You can use the home equity loan to pay
off your other debt such as credit cards -- a good idea, since
the interest rate will be lower -- and also use some of the
proceeds to pay for your education.
2. Obtain a Federal PLUS and Unsubsidized Stafford Loans. You do
not need to demonstrate financial need in order to be eligible
for these loans. Of course, if you are eligible for a
Subsidized Stafford Loan, you should use it before you rely on
unsubsidized of educational loans.
3. Part-time work. You can get part-time work during the academic
year, and a summer job during summer vacation.
4. Save money by completing your education more quickly. If you can
graduate in three years instead of four, you'll have saved 25%
of the cost of your education. Advanced Placement (AP) tests,
institutional advanced standing examinations, and taking an
extra course every semester can shave a semester or a year off
of your academic career.
5. Cut costs:
+ Sell your car and buy a bicycle, or ride the bus and
carpool. If you must keep your car, increase the
deductible on your auto insurance policy to $1,000.
+ Share an apartment to cut housing costs, or live at home.
+ Make long-distance telephone calls only at night, or cut
them out entirely.
+ Learn to cook and stop eating out. There are a lot of
nutritious but inexpensive meals you can make.
+ Sell your TV and VCR.
+ Shopping tips:
- Only buy what you absolutely need, and only when it is
on sale. Consider buying in bulk.
- Buy generic drugs and store brands.
- Eat a full meal before going grocery shopping. Never go
shopping on an empty stomach.
- Buy used textbooks, or sell your books when you're done
- Buy your clothing and furniture at Goodwill, Dollar a
Pound, discount stores, and garage sales.
+ Marry a wealthy spouse.
If you're majoring in a lucrative field, such as business or
computers, don't worry too much about the size of your loans. When you
graduate and get a job, you'll probably be earning enough money to pay
off your educational loans in a reasonable number of years. For other
fields, you should consider how you will be able to repay your loans
before getting too heavily into debt. Likewise, students who intend to
go on to graduate or professional school should carefully consider how
their finances will affect their future options.