Strategies for Appealing a College Financial Aid


A college Financial Aid Package, in simple words, means funds to attend college after high-school education. Financial aid is money/funding granted or loaned to students so that they can attend a vocational school/college or any other institution of higher learning. There are many different sources that offer Financial Aid for College, including governments, colleges and private organisations. The main purpose or the idea behind offering financial aid is to enable millions of deserving students to attend college/university; it is one of the most important pillars of higher education in developed countries. Different forms of student aid, such as grants, scholarships and low-interest loans, enable students to pursue higher education and experience amazing careers and more fulfilling lives.


What all Aspects does a Student Financial Aid Cover?

Many undergraduate students believe that being offered financial aid means that 100% of their college/university expenses are covered. However, this is not usually the scenario. How much and what aspects of financial aid are covered depends on the following factors:

  • The cost to attend the college of your choice
  • The total income that you as an applicant earn
  • If you are a dependent, then your family income
  • Your willingness to repay after completing your degree

Although some students receive the ‘full-ride’ scholarships (based on merit or other special reasons) that pay 100% for their tuition, fees, accommodation and food, such cases are more exceptions than the rule. Many students end up with a financial aid package that covers a large enough portion of their educational expenses such that attending college becomes financially manageable for them. Typically, students from low-income families are often granted a mix of federal grants and loans and sometimes even partial scholarships. On the other hand, some students may have to depend on a mix of federal and private loans, small merit-based scholarships, and/or work-study options.

Mostly, financial aid for college can only be used to offset the costs of education-related expenses such as tuition, fees, on-campus dorm room and board, books, stationery supplies, and transportation to and from college. However, if a student receives a financial aid refund, that money could be used for other personal living expenses.

Broadly put, it is very much possible to pay for one’s education with financial aid. However, the aid might be limited if the student selects an expensive college or is already generating a significant family income. Also, the federal government and private lenders will only lend up to a certain amount. So, the onus might rest on the student to find other ways to cover the cost of the portion not covered by the aid.


Various Types of Student Financial Aid

Different types of financial assistance are available to students. Ideally, an individual college student benefits from a combination of aid types. Student financial aid options include:

Grants: Grants are one of the major forms of federal financial aid. Even many state governments and private organisations award student grants. Simply put, a grant is a monetary gift that the student does not have to repay, and it is awarded based on the level of financial need.

Scholarships: These are also a type of “free” financial aid, and they are highly prized. A scholarship is a gift of money that does not have to be repaid; it is ideally awarded for academic, artistic or some intellectual or athletic achievement.

Student Loans: These are the most common forms of financial aid since students generally qualify for some type of loan. A student loan is money that must be repaid in regular instalments; it is usually available at low-interest rates. Such loans are based on the student’s income and/or family’s income; sometimes, it is also subsidised by the government. These loans are a major form of federal student aid, but can also be obtained from private banks at higher interest rates.

Work-Study: These programs enable an undergraduate student to earn money by working part-time while attending college. Positions are usually on campus or nearby the college/university the student is attending. The money earned is used by the students to cover the cost of books, transportation, and other expenses.


What is Federal Student Financial Aid?

This aid is given in the form of grants, low-interest loans, work-study funding, and other ways to offset the cost of getting a college/university level education after completing high school. Federal Student Financial Aid is based on the level of financial need, cost of attending college and the status of attending (part or full-time). Some of the most common Federal Student Financial Aids are as follows:

Federal Pell Grant is given to low-income undergraduate students and is granted for attending any one college at any given point in time. It is awarded to any student who qualifies and is for 12 semesters.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): This is available for undergraduate students who have exceptional financial needs; however, it is not available at all colleges. It is given directly to the students by participating colleges. It is crucial to apply early because colleges receive only a certain amount of funds to award each year.

Federal Direct Subsidised Loan: Available to undergraduate students who have financial needs, and the college determines the amount one can borrow.

Federal Direct Unsubsidised Loan: This is available for both undergraduate and graduate students and there is no requirement to prove financial need.


How to Appeal/Apply for a College Financial Aid Package?

The thumb rule to applying for and getting financial aid is to start early. Applying early improves one’s chances of qualifying for financial aid for college. Before one applies, it is important to ensure that the basic criteria specified by the organisation have been met and understood. After understanding the eligibility criteria, it is important to complete the FAFSA. FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid; this application can be filled out either online or on paper. This application asks for information about income and assets, and the number of people in the household who are attending college. The information on the FAFSA helps to determine the amount of need-based financial aid the student qualifies for from the federal government.

After completing the FAFSA, it usually takes around 14 working days for the federal government to process the information and submit the results to the college/university one has applied. Once the educational institution has the results, the student will be able to go over them and discuss their options with a financial aid counsellor. The FAFSA needs to be completed each year because the eligibility can change every year, depending on the situation.

Along with FAFSA, it is important to work with the respective college’s Financial Aid Office to understand if the student can apply for other forms of student aid through the college’s financial aid office. The college’s financial aid office coordinates and determines the amount of financial aid one can receive from various sources.

To add, while filling out the financial aid application, it is vital to pay attention to details. The form must be carefully read, the instructions must be adhered to, and all required documents must be duly attached. By filling out each application accurately as per the instructions, the applicant has a better chance of having it processed more quickly and obtaining student aid. Also, the most crucial aspect of any student financial aid application is to meet every deadline.

Let us look at a specific example of Financial Aid in Germany: Germany offers scholarships for international students; it is a type of non-repayable financial support that EU and international students can apply for if they meet the specified requirements. Some of these scholarships are the Erasmus + scholarship, DAAD Scholarship, Study Foundation of the German People scholarship, Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) scholarship, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) scholarship and CBS scholarship. Few of these scholarships are for undergraduate students, but some also offer aid for graduate studies.

It is always good to try and apply for financial aid to lessen the burden of paying from one’s pocket. It helps the students to focus better on academics and fulfil their goals and ambitions.

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Should I be admitted to a college/university before I apply for financial aid?

To apply for financial aid it is not necessary to be admitted. However, to receive the funds, the student should be admitted and enrolled at the university.

Should I reapply for financial aid every year?

Yes, because financial circumstances can change every year. It impacts the amount of aid one can get.

Do my parents have any responsibility for repaying my educational loans?

No, parents are not responsible for educational loans. They become responsible only if they co-sign the loan.

Are photocopies of the FAFSA acceptable? or should the form be filled in original?

Only the original FAFSA form issued by the US Department of Education is valid.

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