Got the Financial Aid Blues? 6 Ways to Deal When Your Award Comes up Short

financial aid award
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No matter how much you run the numbers, you never really know how much financial aid you’re going to get for college until your award letter arrives in the mail.

I remember waiting for that letter and expecting it to be the answer to all my tuition problems. Boy, was I wrong.

I ended up getting a lot less financial aid than I expected, and most of my friends did too.

I was so disappointed and more than a little panicked.

Here’s what I wish I’d known back then.

How Financial Aid is Calculated

The amount of financial aid you receive is based on a formula that’s only marginally easier to understand than the U.S. tax code.

Essentially, it takes into account:

  • Your family’s assets and income.
  • Your assets.
  • What your family needs for minimal living expenses.

The government runs the numbers on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid and comes up with your expected family contribution.

If your college tuition is more than your EFC, the difference between the two is the amount of financial aid you’re eligible to receive.

But it doesn’t mean it’s the amount of financial aid you’ll get.

Why You Got Less Financial Aid Than You Expected

There are many reasons your financial aid award could be less than you were expecting, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong on your application.

Maybe your college simply doesn’t have enough scholarship money to go around, or you may have received other scholarships that reduced the amount of financial aid you’re eligible for.

“What you report on the FAFSA might not capture some special financial circumstances, like high medical bills, caring for an aging parent, or volatile income,” notes CNN. ”It’s worth highlighting those kinds of situations in a formal appeal to the college, as well as anything that dramatically changed in the past year like the loss of a job.”

What To Do Next

If you received less financial aid than you expected, don’t panic.

  • “Ask a college counselor to look over your forms to make sure you didn’t misinterpret any questions,” recommends NerdWallet.

If you’ve exhausted every avenue and still come up short on tuition, it’s time to get creative.  You’ve got this.

Your Turn: Were you ever awarded less financial aid than you expected? What did you do about it?

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Opening that financial aid award letter gave Lisa her first gray hair.