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Winter is an exciting time for high school seniors and their parents. Even (and maybe especially) in this unusual year, the receipt of a college acceptance is cause for celebration.

For many families, however, the initial elation of a college acceptance is quickly tempered by the receipt of a financial aid offer and the realization that, even after the awarded financial assistance, a given college’s cost is still out-of-reach for your family. While disappointing, that inadequate financial aid offer is not necessarily the end of the story, nor the end of your child’s relationship with that school of choice.

The college aid application is, while daunting, necessarily limited in scope and does not paint a complete picture of many families’ financial circumstances, especially in these complicated times. For that reason, colleges are given latitude to use their discretion in considering families’ special circumstances when awarding both government and institutional aid.

Consider if you may have had any of these special circumstances that would warrant an appeal to the financial aid offices for special consideration:

  1. Loss of Income: This year’s aid application was based on your 2019 income. Have you lost your job or experienced a pay cut since then? The furloughs, layoffs, and small business closures of 2020 have reduced many households’ income.
  2. Change in Household: Have you become separated, divorced, or experienced a death in the family?
  3. Ending Child Support: Was child support reported as part of your 2019 income, yet that support will be ending soon—when a child turns 18 or graduates from high school?
  4. Artificially Inflated Income: Did you sell off stocks in 2019, resulting in a large capital gain on your tax return? Or did you experience an unusually high bonus, compensation, or severance package in 2019 that was not repeated in 2020, and is unlikely to be repeated in future years?
  5. Medical Expenses: Was your household recently faced with exceptionally high out-of-pocket medical or dental costs? Or do you regularly pay high bills associated with caring for a special needs child?
  6. Siblings’ Private School: Do you pay private elementary or secondary school tuition for the college applicant’s younger sibling(s)? Or did remote schooling result in increased childcare costs for your family this year?
  7. Extended Family Support: Do you have elder care costs for an aging family member, or do you send money overseas to support the extended family?
  8. Natural Disaster: Have you had to undertake substantial home repairs at a high out-of-pocket cost due to an act of nature?
  9. Parents’ Educational Costs: Are you a parent who is currently enrolled in college, or are you still paying back student loans of your own?
  10. Better Offers: Has your child received better scholarship offers from other schools or been accepted to less expensive colleges?

While not an all-encompassing list, the above situations are among the most common reasons to appeal a financial aid offer. Think about whether any of the above or any additional circumstances not noted, apply to your family and significantly affect your ability to pay for college. If so, don’t hesitate to appeal your child’s financial aid offers.

Put your request in writing to the colleges under consideration, understanding that Financial Aid Offices love facts, figures, and documentation, so be diligent in presenting your case. While not every financial aid appeal will be granted, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

If the FAFSA does not tell the whole story for your family, take a shot at submitting a financial aid appeal. You may see an increased offer, bringing that once unaffordable school within your family’s reach, and bringing that feeling of joy back to the college admissions process.


Bright Horizons College Coach® is the nation’s leader in educational advising. We help students and families across the country navigate the path to college, with a team of experts—all former admissions and financial aid decision-makers at top schools—who know the process from the inside. Collectively, we’ve helped more than 32,000 families successfully manage every aspect of college admissions, from choosing schools, to creating stand-out applications, to economically saving, and financing it all. Visit the Bright Horizons website.