5 Reasons to Challenge Financial Aid Offers

Challenge a financial aid offer

5 Reasons to Challenge Financial Aid Offers

Published September 19, 2019 | Last Updated October 26th, 2023 at 08:35 am

Challenge a financial aid offer

The art of negotiating, when it comes to buying cars and homes, has been mastered by many.

However, when it comes to negotiating the price of a college education and challenging financial aid award letters, those same people often become reticent, and assume school tuition is non-negotiable.

They’re wrong.

At pretty much any school, you can fill out a special circumstances form if your income isn’t accurately reflected on the FAFSA form.

You can also dispute financial aid offers based on medical expenses for anyone in your family or because another school offered you a better offer.

Here’s what you need to know about these common reasons for disputing your financial aid award letter offer.

Is Financial Aid Negotiable?

A change in family income is fairly easy to prove and doesn’t require much calculation. Your family income may have dropped for a variety of reasons since your student applied to college.

For instance, you had a layoff from a job, your hours were reduced, or you decided to take on a job that was more fulfilling with lower pay.

Briefly explain what happened on a special circumstances form.  

This is a form from the school where you explain reasons for economic difficulty that occurred since your tax form was filled out.

Call the financial aid office to see what proof of income is needed.

If you are not successful in your quest, and it doesn’t affect your immediate financial aid award, don’t get discouraged.

It may make a difference the following semester.

This is why it’s very important to ask how the school uses the information and what semester it could impact.

Reasons to Challenge Financial Aid  Awards

Medical Expenses

Any medical expense that may make it harder for your family to afford college costs should be listed here, even ones that will occur in the coming school year.

For instance, a recent cancer diagnosis can lead to quite a bit of future medical expenses.

Ask a doctor and your insurance company for a detailed list of the prices of treatments.

A sibling of the student with a developmental disability may have expenses that affect family income.

Medical expenses that may be listed, no matter what the reason, could include but aren’t limited to medication, physical therapy, speech therapy, any treatment for diseases, or medical tests.

Don’t forget to include how much the medical expense could be during the coming year.

A new dependent in your family

There are several ways a family may add a dependent: if a parent gave birth to or adopted a child, takes in a niece or nephew, cares for a sick relative, or a grandparent moves in with the parents.

You’ll want to put this information on a special circumstances form as the new dependent directly affects family income.

If there are specific expenses for medical care for this person on the special circumstances form, you will need to mention it.

If not, you just simply write two sentences about the addition to the household, i.e. “My grandmother moved in with us on X date.”

Another school is offering your student more money

Schools compete with each other.

If one school offers your student money, your student should call the other school to inquire whether the financial aid offer can be increased.

You might be wondering why the school didn’t just offer the money originally if they had it to give.

Sometimes there is neither rhyme nor reason why schools do what they do.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t change their minds…if you have a legitimate claim.

One reason why certain money isn’t offered up front is that schools have a certain amount of endowment money they can give students for such reasons as competing for top students who raise the overall GPA or ACT/SAT scores of accepted students.

They may also raise the aid award because the student asks about additional scholarships they may not yet have applied for.

These appeals are made via a written letter or through a phone call.

A phone call to the financial aid office can lead to information on scholarships you didn’t know existed and is always the best start.

The award amount seems inaccurate

Everyone makes mistakes, even large universities.

If the financial aid you received seems significantly off from what it should be, give the financial aid office a call and back it up with a letter.

The mistake may be for a reason as simple as the school didn’t change the offer after your student retook the ACT or SAT.

How to Prepare to Challenge Financial Aid Offers

  • Fill out the special circumstances form when the amount is lower because your income changed or you have a medical expense that wasn’t accounted for on the FAFSA.
  • If you have medical expenses for anyone in your family, gather an itemized list of those expenses that you can submit to the school financial aid office.
  • Schools make mistakes. Call them and back it up with a letter if you believe they made an error in your award amount.
  • Schools compete with each other for top students. Call the financial aid office to ask whether any other scholarships or endowment money are available.

It’s not always a slam dunk when you appeal a financial aid offer, however, there are circumstances that can make an appeal possible.

Understanding the process and going about it through the proper channels may lead to a successful outcome. 


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:

FAFSA for Divorced Parents: What You Need to Know to Make Good Financial Aid Decisions

You Should Be Asking These Questions about Financial Aid

Sample Financial Aid Appeal Letters




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