After receiving a financial aid award letter, many students entering into their first year assume the fat lady has sung and they’ll keep receiving the same financial aid package for each year of college. Very few students ask themselves, “Can my financial aid change from year to year?”
While there are some forms of no-strings-attached financial aid (including some but not all private scholarships), much of the financial aid you receive comes with rules that you must follow to continue receiving that financial aid. Oh yeah, and you need to apply every single year. Make sure you know what the deadline is to do that, as well.
Tip: You should know what those rules are!
Why Your Financial Aid Could Change Each Year
Depending on the terms of your financial aid (merit vs. need), any one of the following could result in changes to your financial aid package:
- Your GPA slips below the requirement for your financial aid.
- Your enrollment status changes (taking too many or too few credits each semester).
- You take a leave of absence from school.
- Your parents earn more/less income (or any other change to your family’s income status, including changes to your own income).
- You’ve faced disciplinary action by your school.
- You’ve become incarcerated.
- Changes to your dependency status (let’s say you turn 24 years old or get married).
- Changes in your household (like more or less people live with you or more or less family members are in college)
Note: Many college students see drastic changes in their financial aid from year to year when a sibling enters or leaves college. If your younger sibling enters school after you, your expected financial contribution (EFC) will be cut approximately in half—possibility for more aid! But if your older sibling leaves school, your EFC may double—significantly decreasing your aid.
What You Should Do
Now, the above is just a sampling of things that could cause your financial aid package to change. That’s why, whenever you receive financial aid from any source, it’s vitally important that you ask what you need to do to keep it.
For example, many merit-based college grants require you to maintain a certain GPA. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know what that GPA is?
Additionally, federal financial aid requires that you maintain “satisfactory academic progress” (SAP) as determined by your school. Again, it’s helpful to know what your school’s SAP policies are, such as how many credits you need to be completing each year and what your GPA needs to stay above.
Remember Grants And Scholarships, Too
Look out for grants or scholarships that are only awarded once. During my first year of college, I received a grant that my school called a “travel grant.” That grant was only awarded to students who were traveling from another state, and it was not renewable. Meaning, that was grant money that I could not rely upon the following year.
Luckily, I asked questions early on and was able to find a substitute scholarship to fill the gap the following year. However, if I had not sought out the information beforehand, I would have been in a world of hurt because I depended on that money to buy things like books and food.
In most cases, your financial aid won’t change dramatically from year to year; however, it’s always pragmatic to be aware of these potential fluctuations so that you can be sure to continue receiving all of the financial aid that you need for college.
For more information on college financial aid, check out our video titled When And How To Apply For Financial Aid From Your College.