If your and your family’s ability to pay for college changed drastically from application to acceptance, you may be wondering, “What do I do now?”

First, take a deep breath and remember you’re not alone. Many college-bound students and their families have had to navigate unemployment, financial shakeups, and other economic issues.

If you need more financial aid than you initially expected when planning for college, check out these recommended steps from experts.

Complete the FAFSA®

While it may not reflect the full picture of your family’s current financial situation, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is still the first step in getting financial aid. It’s important to complete the form even if your financial situation has changed over the past few years, and even if you’re worried you may not be awarded as much as you need.

“Students and families who have experienced job loss or significant changes in income should complete their FAFSA using the income information from the appropriate year tax forms, even if it does not currently reflect their financial circumstance,” says Allie Arcese, a spokesperson for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA).

Currently the FAFSA relies on tax data from two years prior to determine need. The only way to start the process of securing any financial aid at all—along with gaining access to many scholarships—is to complete the FAFSA as directed.

Contact the Financial Aid Office

Reach out to the financial aid offices of the schools you’ve been accepted to, letting them know your financial situation has changed. “When there are unusual situations or circumstances that impact a student’s federal student aid eligibility, federal regulations give a financial aid administrator discretion—on a case-by-case basis and with adequate documentation—to make adjustments to the data elements on the FAFSA that impact the student’s [aid eligibility],” says Ben Kohl, former president of the Kansas Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Kohl also adds that a financial aid appeal goes by different names at different schools, such as a “professional judgment” or a “special circumstances process.”

Schools aren’t required to do this, and may require additional verification, such as unemployment eligibility or other documents. Arcese recommends contacting financial aid offices directly to be sure you understand their process. Keep a spreadsheet of what each school requires and what you’ve submitted, similar to your college or scholarship application spreadsheet.

Find Out if You’re Eligible for Additional Federal Loans

Parents can apply for a Federal Direct PLUS Loan. If your parent isn’t eligible, you may be able to receive up to an additional $5,000 in unsubsidized federal aid. There may also be options for your parent to get an endorser (similar to a cosigner) for the loan.

Apply for Scholarships

Talk to the financial aid office of the school you want to attend. They may have scholarship opportunities that make sense for your goals. You can also talk with your high school counselor. They can help you research scholarships and find ones that are best fit for you.

Consider Your Plan B

If you’ve crunched the numbers and the financial aid package still doesn’t work with your financial situation, then it might be time to explore other options. This could be going to community college, attending a less expensive school, or taking a year off to work and save money before you go to school.

As you weigh your options, remember that it’s key to ask for help directly. Don’t hesitate to reach out to schools, Arcese urges. “Financial aid offices want to help students as much as they are able.” Connect early and often to get the support you need to successfully navigate this tricky time.

FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.

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