Writing a financial aid appeal letter can be intimidating.
However, schools have a form known as the Special Circumstances Form already in place to give families a place to describe special circumstances that affect their ability to pay for college.
The form should be used to describe anything that has changed financially, from one year to the next, and anything that distinguishes the family from the typical family such as death of a parental wage earner, medical expenses, elder care costs, recent unemployment and more.
Here’s what you need to know about the form:
What is a Special Circumstances Form?
The Special Circumstances Form simply asks for the reason why you feel what you listed on the FAFSA or CSS Profile doesn’t represent your full financial situation.
It’s available from financial aid offices and can give you a chance to tell the rest of your financial story that may not be accurate reflected by the questions on FAFSA.
These details can be an income change, a new child, a sibling of the student who wasn’t going to go to college and since has enrolled, caregiving costs for an elderly grandparent, and unforeseen or really high medical expenses.
Expenses required for a disabled child would go into this category, too.
You’ll list your reason in just two to three sentences and submit it back to the college.
It’s a simple appeal that will be rejected or denied based on what’s stated on the form.
Some forms don’t have you write anything at all.
You can just fill in the bubble next to the reason you’re requesting the review.
Are All Colleges the Same?
The forms can differ quite a bit in both the format and what reasons are considered based on the college.
Read the page on the school website to get instructions for the form and also an idea of what the school considers special circumstances to be.
For example, Duke University has a very specific list of what reasons they will and won’t accept, such as support of multiple households for a grandparent or parents who are separated), parents’ student loan debt, and funeral expenses that are at least five percent of total family income.
Moving costs are also an expense they want to know about.
For job loss, Duke specifies Job loss/termination, Wage/salary reduction, and Mandatory furlough as reasons they accept for review.
But it differs greatly from college to college.
A member of our PayingForCollege101 Facebook group quit her job to return to college, and as a result, her income was reduced.
She filled out the form and told us her college accepted her financial aid appeal.
Other schools also accept reductions in income from a business as a potential reason for appealing a financial aid award.
Types of Verification That May be Required
Verification varies based on why you are appealing financial aid.
If there has been a decrease in income, verification can be a layoff letter, bank statements, or a tax return that’s more recent than what’s required by the FAFSA or CSS Profile.
Your school may specify what they need.
For medical or family expenses that have already happened, you can provide bill statements that were paid, etc.
For future medical expenses, you can get a doctor’s or insurance letter for what expenses you may incur in the near future.
Bottom line: You’re probably going to need some proof.
Do your best to provide the most accurate form of evidence that your financial circumstances are different than what was reported on the FAFSA or CSS Profile.
Quick tips for filling out special circumstances forms
- Decide whether you have a circumstance where you need one. Examples: income change or medical or family expense not reported on the FAFSA or CSS Profile.
- Read the form from the college you are submitting it to very carefully. Each college could have its own list of situations they will and won’t consider for a financial aid review.
- Don’t expect to provide long explanations. One or two sentences per situation or expense is sufficient. Sometimes, you just fill in a bubble.
- Do expect to provide some sort of verification.
Filling out special circumstances forms when your economic situation changes needn’t be stressful.
As long as you have a legitimate reason for a financial aid appeal and the proper paperwork, you should feel confident that the college will take everything you offer into consideration.
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