One of the little-known facts about college financial aid is that students can appeal to their financial aid office for a higher award package. There are dozens of legitimate reasons a financial office might agree to increase a financial aid package. Even if a professional judgment does not lead to more grants, it might result in cheaper loans.
The financial aid director must review each appeal on a case-by-case basis. Common reasons for requesting more aid include taking on a new dependent, such as a child; an injury causing high medical bills; and unemployment or under-employment. The U.S. Department of Education leaves most of the judgment decision up to the director. In general, a hardship beyond your control should be a good enough reason. A high debt load caused by buying a boat, for instance, probably would not qualify as a good reason.
Schools usually receive a higher number of appeals during rough economic times. When the U.S. Department of Education told schools in 2009 to alert students to the option to appeal their financial aid packages, some schools saw a more than 10 percent increase in requests, according to an August 20, 2009, story in "The Washington Post." The earlier in a student's career, the more likely he is to receive extra aid, because older students who are close to graduating are less likely to drop out due to rising costs.
The financial aid office probably won't review your case until you furnish evidence to prove your hardship. For instance, if you have other siblings who have just entered college, provide a copy of their acceptance letters. If your parent's employer reduces hours or forces him to take an unpaid sabbatical, provide a letter from the company explaining the situation.
Financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz published a list of best practices for colleges when making a professional judgment. You can get an idea of what might constitute a hardship by reviewing these tip sheets. Also, talking to the financial aid office is key. It might offer some alternatives, such as federal student loans, which tend to have cheaper interest rates than most other financing options.