Listen to the episode: [audio https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/cmmwordpress/Podcasts/episode14-11.mp3]
On this March 12, 2014 episode we discuss the importance of the filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA ASAP with Andrew Viscariello of Black Hawk College. In addition, we are discussing three appeal types when it comes to you or your students financial aid.
Guided by we talk with Mary Lawson, Associate Director of Financial Aid at Western Illinois University (@WIUNews) , First we cover the Estimated Cost of Attendance, or ECA/COA appeals, and how to appeal that if you feel the cost profile is too low. Next, she discusses how to appeal your initial Expected Family Contribution number, or EFC and your Financial Aid Award Letter, if it does not reflect your current financial circumstances.
Download The Episode: Ep14-11 March 12, 2014
Jose “JR” Vazquez: It’s March 12th, 2014 and this is episode eleven of the College Money Man Podcast.
This week we’re going to talk to a financial aid officer about financial aid appeals, discuss top scholarship application mistakes and answer our readers’ questions. So stay tuned. We’re going to start out this week by talking to Mary Lawson, the Assistant Director for Financial Aid, my alma mater Western Illinois University. And Western Illinois University has a pretty diverse body and a diverse student body leads them to deal with almost every financial aid situation under the sun.
So to talk about us about financial aid appeals today, joining us via Google Voice is Mary Lawson. How is it going Mary?
Mary Lawson: Really well, thank you.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: You know, a lot of people talk about us being in an economic recovery in this country but the cost of education is still rising far faster than the rate of inflation. And people are still being laid off from their jobs and have other situations which could affect their financial aid picture. So, understanding financial aid appeals is very important. Parents need to communicate with the financial aid office when things have changed, circumstances have changed. So can you explain for us how the financial aid appeals work and how to go about getting them started?
Mary Lawson: The first step would probably be to make a contact to the financial aid office. The office is able to take into consideration special circumstances. And it’s considered a professional judgment; anything that’s beyond the scope of the FAFSA application is considered a professional judgment. The office has the ability to make those judgments but each office — each college will set their own standards of what they will review. So where some schools will look at one type of issue, another might not. So your first contact would be with the school’s financial aid office and let them be aware of what happened, you know, if you’ve lost the job or had bankruptcy or something like that. Financial aid office might be able to take that into account.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: If a parent or a student has been laid off or lost their job, what documentation do you recommend they provide and how does that affect their financial aid picture when it comes to a financial aid appeal?
Mary Lawson: A layoff or loss of a job is very common. What we do here and I know many school would do something very similar, the FAFSA asks for tax information from the previous tax year. So if the circumstances have changed since then so that their estimated income for the year that they’re in is going to be a lot less. We can review that. We have a standard form that they would complete for us with estimated income and then they would need to document some things, usually document the last date of work, a last pay stub so that we can accurately document what their income has been for that year.
And then we can recalculate the expected family contribution, we can recalculate that using the next year’s tax estimate instead of the one that was on the FAFSA. And I know in our case we will only do that change if it benefits the student. And I think most schools will do that as well. So if it for some reason they are getting a lot more unemployment or a lot of disability insurance that actually makes their income more on paper than it was the previous year, we would not do that, we adjustment it for them. We would only do it if it benefited them.
So yeah, in most schools we’ll have a form that you would complete and require some documentation. Even though it’s a professional judgment, we do have to have documentation of the reasons and the amounts and things that we use to do that professional judgment.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: So the key really is to be sure that you stay in communication with your financial aid office and disclose everything so that they can make the best professional judgment possible.
Mary Lawson: Yes, yes, that is the key.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Another thing I wanted to ask about was, you know, the cost of education continues to rise but each school has their own estimate as to what a particular education is going to cost, called the estimated cost of attendance. And it’s the law requires that all schools disclose this number, however, not everybody and every program is going to have the same cost of attendance. Some people may have higher costs. Can you describe to us the situation where the estimated cost of attendance for a particular student would be higher and if so, how would they communicate to the office of financial aid that they need their ECA to be increased so that they can receive more financial aid if eligible?
Mary Lawson: Again that’s something that we can do on an individual basis. Most schools will use an average cost of attendance but if a student has specific costs that are higher, now we are regulated as to what areas of cost we can include. We wouldn’t be able to include purchase of a car or some really high-end expenses but in the case where, you know, the student lives a long distance away and has a higher transportation cost, then what we normally would average in for a student on a cost of attendance, we can increase the cost of attendance for that type of thing. If a student is purchasing a computer, we can what documentation of the cost of the computer; we can add that to their cost of attendance.
Some schools add that in automatically if the students are required at that school to have a computer. So it might already be in the cost of attendance for some schools but not in others.
Jose “JR” Vazquez: Mary Lawson, the Assistant Director of Financial Aid at Western Illinois University my alma mater, joining us via Google Voice. Thank you so much for coming on today.
Mary Lawson: Okay, you’re welcome.