Most experts agree that paying for college is more complicated (and expensive!) than it should be, but this is especially true for students whose circumstances change in the middle of the year. Maybe a college student loses the job that’s covered their living expenses while in school, or perhaps a work-study program came to an abrupt end.
Maybe a student decides to pick up more courses at a higher cost to reach their goals. And sometimes it’s just a matter of not knowing how much financial aid you really need, or underestimating your needs early on.
Either way, you should know that you can Apply for more financial aid in the middle of the school year. I reached out to some experts and college graduates to find out how to make this happen, and here’s what they said.
Check With The Financial Aid Office
Cynthia Hass, an Oxford MBA who had to apply for additional aid during her undergraduate program at Boston University, says the first step you should take is heading to the financial aid office at your school. Talk to them and let them know your situation, she says.
This exact play is what helped her get more aid in the middle of the school year. Hass was able to score around $1,000 in additional financial aid mid-year just for asking and not taking “no” for an answer. For the rest, they encouraged her to take out more student — something she was trying desperately to avoid.
“So, I pushed harder and proved I needed the money,” says Hass.
While she says some persistence went a long way in her situation, she also agrees her strategy won’t always work.
Brian Gawor, CFRE and Vice President for Research at RNL, agrees with Hass’ strategy, adding that financial aid offices have official processes to reevaluate aid offers with new circumstances.
They also have a list of tested providers and tools they’ve used with other students and emergency grant programs funded by donors.
“Don’t go it alone,” he says. “Call your financial aid office, drop them an email, or if you can, stop in.”
File For A Change Of Circumstance
Anya Ilkys, who is CEO and Principal Consultant at College Starpoint, adds that your school’s financial aid office can also help you find out if you are eligible for an appeal or a change in circumstance.
Sometimes things happen in students’ or parents’ lives that significantly affect their ability to pay for school, she says.
According to student loan expert Mark Kantrowitz, who is the author of How to Appeal for More College Financial Aidyou should always appeal whenever your ability to pay for college has changed.
“For example, if you’ve lost your job or experienced a pay cut, you should file an appeal immediately,” he says.
Kantrowitz says your school’s financial aid office may ask you to write a short letter summarizing the special circumstances that affect your ability to pay for college. On the other hand, they may have a form they want you to complete.
“Either way, you should include copies of independent, third-party documentation of the special circumstances,” he says.
Kantrowitz also says appeals letters should include an itemized list of special circumstances. Each bullet point should summarize the change in circumstance you have gone through, along with its financial impact. Also be as specific as you can, he says.
“For example, with job loss or pay cuts, mention how much your income has decreased job and the date you lost your.”
Once you have the letter ready, make sure you send it by certified mail, return receipt requested or with delivery confirmation. This way you have proof of receipt, says Kantrowitz. After mailing the letter out, he suggests waiting a week and calling the college financial aid office to confirm receipt and ask if they need any more information.
Search For Scholarships
Ilkys also adds that colleges and universities often have databases with additional scholarships that students can apply for while they are enrolled. This money usually comes from alumni and gets updated on a rolling basis, she says.
“So, if your school has something like that and in the beginning of the year you’ve searched and didn’t find anything that would be a match, try again!”
There may have been a new scholarship that was added after you looked earlier in the year, but you won’t know unless you check.
CEO Greg Dehn of Kaleidoscope, an online scholarship marketplace, also echoes that advice. Dehn says organizations like his work with the private sector and individual donors to create scholarships and grants to make college more accessible.
He also adds that traditional scholarship aggregation sites aren’t always up to date, and don’t present all available options, especially in the middle of the school year. With that in mind, several times per year and applying for new or updated scholarships can pay off.
Talk To The Dean
Finally, Ilkys says that talking to the Dean at your school can help since academic departments often have their own departmental budgets and money that they can distribute to students. She adds that this source of funding is not always publicized and is kept only for students in dire situations.
As a result, many students don’t even know that there are possibilities out there for them to get additional financial aid through their academic department.
“Try to make an appointment with your Dean or with an Assistant Dean to explain what you’re going through,” she says. “Chances are, if the department has the money to allocate to students, they will try to help you the best that they can.”
The Bottom Line
If you need more financial aid in the middle of the school year, your school is probably the best place to start. While the high costs of college tuition can make your college or university seem like your adversary, schools really do have an incentive to keep you happy.
In fact, Gawor points out that your college has invested in you, both with your admission and with financial aid they have already given. Not only that, but colleges and universities want to keep students enrolled and graduating, and are often ranked on how well they do this.
“You’re not alone,” he says. “The student success and financial aid professionals at your school are on your team.”