Five Criteria That Can Affect Your Financial Aid Appeal

appealing financial aid awards

Five Criteria That Can Affect Your Financial Aid Appeal

Published September 16, 2019 | Last Updated December 30th, 2023 at 03:24 pm

appealing financial aid awards

How does one determine whether or not to appeal a financial aid award letter?

Should I bother appealing a financial aid award letter?

We asked these questions and many more of Jodi Okun, from College Financial Aid Advisors.

Here’s what Jodi, author of “Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro,” said:

The Five Criteria That Can Affect Your Financial Aid Appeal

  1. Family Loss of Income
  2. Death in the Family
  3. Illness, Injury, Surgery
  4. Caring For an Elderly Family Member
  5. Extenuating Circumstances  (Situation that is unique to your own family that you could not articulate on the FAFSA or CSS Profile)

Call or email the college to advise them of the details and they will let you know what their appeal process is.

And keep in mind that regardless of when the change in financial/health/situational status occurred, appropriate documentation will be required.

How Do I Appeal a Financial Aid Package?

How Long Should Your Financial Aid Appeal Be?

Financial aid appeal letters should be no longer than one page. And yes, there is such a thing as sharing too much.

There is a strategy to writing an appeal letter: Jodi recommends keeping the extraneous minutiae out and putting the “hard stuff” in. Go as far back as necessary, but be succinct in providing more FACTUAL, rather than emotional details.

Who Should Handle the Appeal?

The person who is most in control and knowledgeable about the specifics of the situation, whether it be the parent or the student, should be the one handling the appeal.

To Whom Do You Appeal?

If you are asking about Merit Aid, contact the Admissions Office. If you are asking about Need-Based Financial Aid, contact the Financial Aid Office.

How Early Should You Make Your Appeal?

Once you’ve determined that you do have a valid reason for requesting an appeal, the next question is when would be the best time to write it.

Jodi made it quite clear that although they are all mandated by the Federal Gov’t and some general rules do apply across the board, each college has its own financial aid process, so, most schools march to the beat of their own drum.

What they all do have in common is being inundated during certain times of the year, especially when they have not fully dealt with the regular admissions notifications.

If your student has already been sent a package that you are “itching” to appeal, Jodi suggests you pen your letter and plot your strategy, but WAIT.

Your student does not have to commit until May 1 (unless they are EA or ED), and your time would be better spent reviewing your award letter(s) and deciding which school is the best fit for your student.

Tactics That Won’t Work When Appealing Financial Aid

Feeling that the package you’ve already been presented with “is just not working” is not enough of a reason to make an appeal.

Also, assuming that if you’ve received merit aid from one school, you should also be receiving it from another will not gain you points with a financial aid office.

Parents should keep in mind that their students are being compared to other students all over the globe, not just in their own communities.

Understand that there’s a lot of competition out there, and they have to be able to digest that some schools will just be too expensive for their budgets

Bottom Line

The Financial Aid Office is there to facilitate things. Don’t automatically assume that any request they make of you for additional/different documentation is a reason to worry; they just want to get it done. Complying with those requests will help them do their job.

And since applying for financial aid must be done each year (as opposed to Merit Aid which could span the entire four years),  getting the hang of it the first time will make the process later on seem like a “breeze.”

Watch our Facebook Live with Jodi Okun, a former college financial aid professional experience working in financial aid offices at Occidental University and Pitzer College.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

Don’t Be Overly Optimistic about Financial Aid

Deciphering College Financial Aid: A Guide to Need-Based vs Merit-Based Aid

You Should Be Asking These Questions about Financial Aid




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