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College Students Could Be Missing Out On Financial Aid. We've Got Tips On Getting More Money

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A poster at Alhambra High School explains the various forms of financial aid available for college-bound students. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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When President Obama changed the Free Application For Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to require tax information from two years prior, it was supposed to make it easier for students to get financial help to attend college.

But then the pandemic hit. And now students whose aid packages are based on higher, pre-pandemic income are potentially losing out on millions of dollars in grants, loans and scholarships.

At a time of plummeting college enrollment, a reasonable financial aid package could make all the difference in keeping students on track to get a degree.

"Your understanding of the affordability picture is then going to dictate your decisions about where you decide to apply and what you could actually pay for if you were to get in and have an admissions offer somewhere," said Jake Brymner, Director of Government Relations and External Affairs at the California Student Aid Commission.

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But even prospective students can appeal their financial aid offers. Here's how:

Let Schools Know Your Financial Picture Has Changed

Even though students file their FAFSA with the federal government (undocumented students in California can file a California Dream Act Application for state aid), they need to contact individual schools to request a recalculation of their aid packages. Students can do this even if they haven't been accepted yet.

It's officially called professional judgment, and often known simply as a financial aid appeal. The process can vary so it's best to reach out to each school's financial aid office.

Higher education advocates also recently launched an online tool to help students figure out if they're eligible, and write an appeal letter.

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Collect Documentation Of Your Current Financial Situation

You'll almost surely have to gather some — and maybe a lot — of paperwork for an appeal. Depending on your circumstances and your school's requirements, this could include your most recent tax returns, pay stubs, bills, and/or unemployment claims.

We're not going to lie, the process can be daunting.

"It requires additional documentation that sometimes isn't available, especially if you have a parent who only works on cash-based payments," said Lina Calderón-Morin, deputy director of the Southern California College Access Network.

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