7 Ways To Net More College Financial Aid

John Wasik | Forbes

For most families, college financial aid is a puzzle: How do you put the pieces together to get more of it?

One thing is certain, though. You can increase your financial aid package by paying attention to handful of factors.

The answer is never simple because it involves your family's disposal income, the college's black box aid formula and the academic — and often athletic — achievements of the student.

Fred Amrein, a financial adviser with EFC Plus and an expert on financial aid, tackles this subject concisely by focusing on what colleges are looking for in their aid awards. They want to know if your family is suffering from financial distress. They may not know that, however, by reading your FAFSA statement.

FAFSA is the federal aid application that most families must file to qualify for financial aid. You can file the forms anytime after October 1 for the following school year, but the earlier the better.

Once you've applied to a college and forwarded your FAFSA to them, if they accept a student, they will send a letter and an aid award — if the family qualifies.

Although many aid letters are simply a package of loans, which isn't aid in my book, it's not the final word on aid. You can appeal the award and ask for more money. Always seek tuition discounts, grants and scholarships over loans if you want a debt-free degree.

Whatever you do, don't get on the phone and start yelling at an aid officer. That will backfire. You need to write an aid appeal letter and send it via snailmail.

What does a successful aid appeal look like? Here are some key points that Amrein recommends you note:

- Parent losing a job or reduction of income

- Unexpected medical expenses

- Death of a parent

- A one-time increase in family’s income reflected in the based FAFSA year

- Support of an elderly parent

- Damage due to natural disaster

- Divorce or Separation

Note how important marital status is in this list. Single-parent households are usually going to net more aid. And if a parent is either qualifying for or receiving Social Security, that's also important to mention.

In short, any negative change in a family's financial status should be detailed in the aid appeal letter. Numbers matter.

"I always suggest that families include any financial numbers that show the adjustments in their income when submitting their appeal," Amrein states. "We recommend that your appeal letter be short, polite and concise."

"The financial aid office may request further documentation to support your appeal request," Amrein adds. "This means that third-party documentation of this adjusted income should be available to support your appeal. This process may take several weeks to review and if approved the family would receive a revised financial aid award letter."

John F. Wasik is the author of "Lightning Strikes", "Keynes's Way to Wealth"and 15 other books on innovation, money and life. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.