April 30th, 2021

Appealing Your College Financial Aid: Tips and Tools

This year, college choices are more complicated than ever given the COVID-19 pandemic. Families lost income, the college landscape shifted drastically, and students are faced with uncertainty while making choices regarding how to fund their education. One thing that often comes up for college students with disabilities is how to get additional resources to support you with the accommodations and assistive technology you may need. NCLD engaged in conversation with Abigail Seldin of the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation to discuss how students with disabilities can find the financial resources and knowledge to make it in college. One such resource, SwiftStudent, is a tool that students with disabilities can use to get additional financial support while in college.

The below is a summary of our interview with Abigail Seldin, producer of SwiftStudent and CEO of the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation (SHSF

 Q: Abigail, what does Swift Student do to support college students with disabilities? Can you describe the tool?

Most college students don’t know they can ask for additional financial aid. SHSF worked with 17 leading higher education organizations to build SwiftStudent, a free online tool to guide students through the financial aid appeal process. SwiftStudent helps students and families understand eligibility requirements, the need for supporting documentation, and the process of customizing a free template letter to send to the financial aid office. 

There are a variety of circumstances where a student can – and should – ask for additional financial aid, including needs associated with a disability. While there is no guarantee that the school will adjust a financial package to help with disability-related expenses, federal law allows financial aid officers to consider these expenses when determining the amount of financial aid a student can receive. Students may be able to get a loan or a grant for disability-related expenses while attending school.

If the school does not offer an online application form for a “disability allowance” or the student cannot reach out to the financial aid office during business hours, the student can start the conversation by using the free SwiftStudent Disability Expenses Request, and submitting it to the financial aid office.

Q: How extensive are aid disparities for students with disabilities looking to fund their accommodations and learning supports?

Today, 19% of college students have a disability. Anecdotally, we know that there’s a broken bridge between high school and college on learning supports and accommodations; few students know that they can ask for additional financial aid to help cover expenses related to their disabilities. 

At the federal level, there’s no tracking on what percentage of students receive (or ask for) a disability allowance, nor is there any tracking on the average allowance. Our foundation recently funded The Education Trust to research the financial aid appeals process to shed light on this critical information gap. 

Q: Affording college is a huge topic of interest for students with disabilities, especially since many colleges and universities ask students to receive new psychoeducational evaluations to prove they need college accommodations. What options do students have to find funding for these assessments?

Students should also seek assistance and guidance from their school’s disability services office or from the college’s financial aid office. When we were building SwiftStudent, we did 10 focus groups with financial aid officers. We heard over and over that they wanted to assist students — but they can only help the students who approach them to ask for help. 

Q: What should most college students know about financial aid processes that are not clear or transparent currently?

Many college students don’t know that financial aid appeals are a normal part of the process. Asking for help can feel difficult and lonely. While there’s no national data, students can and do receive changes to their financial aid packages. NPR recently produced a piece about financial aid appeals, and how they can change students lives.

Q: Lastly, how many students have used Swift Student to support their college aid needs?

SwiftStudent has helped more than 70,000 students across all 50 states! We’re grateful for our amazing partners – including NCLD! – who are helping us ensure all students can find the help they need to succeed in college. 

If you would like to find out more about SwiftStudent, the financial aid appeals process, and how to navigate the disability services center on your campus, join NCLD, the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation, and Accessible College for a free webinar on May 11th, 2021. 

You can register for the webinar here.

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