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Appealing Financial Aid and Merit Scholarships

The following list of questions were asked during our recent Zoom session on how to appeal financial aid and merit scholarships. The recorded video can be watched above.

Use Compare College Offers

We suggest using our free tool Compare College Offers as a way to see all your student’s offers in one place and easily compare them. Once entered, you can select to see other offers from students that were accepted at the same schools.

To recalculate your student’s GPA to an unweighted GPA, use the calculator provided here. 

Can we use this crowdsourced information to justify to colleges that my student deserves more?

We suggest using the crowdsourced information in Compare College Offers as a guide to see what other students were offered for merit scholarships and how their grads, test scores, locations, and EFC range compare to your student.

We do not suggest you use the crowdsourced information you find in Compare College Offers as examples and justification for appealing merit awards in your student’s appeal request.

In the Road2College tool, does this show only for students who filled in their information?

Compare College Offers is a tool collecting crowdsourced information. So it only shows offers from families who have shared their information. 

 

Deciding to Appeal Financial Aid or Merit Scholarships

If you put a deposit on a school, does it decrease your chances for an appeal (financial aid, comparative, or grants)?

How much leverage is there to appeal for ED-accepted students?

Applying early decision (ED) and/or sending in a deposit to a school to accept their offer, are signals to the college that your student is committed to attending no matter what. It’s unlikely a college will offer more merit scholarships to students in these situations.

If your family’s financial situation has changed since when your student applied, however, then you should appeal because of special circumstances.

If there has been a significant change to the financial outlook of a family since FAFSA was submitted (divorce, job loss, death, etc) who does the family address?

If your family’s financial situation has changed significantly since filing FAFSA (which is based on taxes from two years prior), you should appeal the needs-based financial aid.

Even if your family did not file FAFSA or filed FAFSA but did not receive needs-based aid, and your family’s financial situation has changed, you can still appeal and ask the college to review your student’s financial aid. 

In either of the cases above you should make sure to mentiuon that because of a change in your family’s financial situation, due to special circumstances, you are asking that the school use professional judgment to review your student’s case.

Be prepared to present documents to support the change in finances and/or increase in expenses. 

Check your school’s financial aid website or contact your financial aid office to see if there are online forms you need to fill out to initiate this process or whether sending an email with supporting documents is sufficient.

Here’s a list of what would be considered special circumstances:

  • Loss or change of employment resulting in significant change in income
  • Child Support reduction or change
  • Divorce/Separation of parents/spouse
  • Change of marital status for dependent students
  • Death of parent(s) or spouse
  • Excessive out-of-pocket medical and/or dental expenses that exceed 11% of household’s Adjusted Gross Income
  • One-time taxable income (IRA disbursement, pension distribution, etc)

For those of us waiting on RD decisions and then financial offers after that, will we actually have time to appeal before the May 1st decision?

Timing is tight if you’re awaiting a regular decision that is scheduled to come at the end of March. Be prepared with documents if you’ll be appealing needs-based aid.

If you think you’ll be appealing merit scholarships, than make that decision quickly once all your student’s offers have been received. 

Is there any leverage to compare offers from a private school to a public school or will public schools ignore that since they typically give so much less?

It can’t hurt to try but don’t count on a public school matching a private school’s merit scholarship offer. Remember, it’s the percent of tuition and room & board that the merit scholarship represents.

State schools just don’t have the same budgets, but they may offer something in return. 

It’s very unlikely that a flagship state school will match or even be willing to offer anything in response to an appeal with a merit scholarship from a private school. It’s supply and demand and most flagship state universities have enough supply of in-state and out-of-state students. 

 

Contacting the School or Writing the Appeal Letter

For merit scholarships, wouldn’t it be better to have a conversation with the admission counselor and/or financial aid counselor before sending any letter to see what that conversation could turn up…especially with a good merit offer from another college in hand?

Are we better off emailing or calling?  (Our Guidance Counselor said to call…)

There is no “right” answer to this. Do whatever you and your student feel most comfortable with.

We’ve seen families handle appeals both ways (phone calls vs emailing) and both have been successful. 

Should appeal letters be from the student or parent?

We’ve found it’s most effective if appeal letters (emails, actually) come from the student.

Parents can and should help their students draft the email, but students should try to handle as much of the process as possible. 

If a student chooses to call the college (whether admissions or financial aid), it’s best if the student initiates the conversation with parents participating as well.

Do you put in the yearly amount offered or the full amount of the scholarship?

When comparing merit scholarship offers calculate what percent of the tuition and room & board the scholarship amount represents. 

For example:

School A Merit Scholarship = $15,000

School A Tuition, Room & Board = $65,000

Merit Scholarship % = 23%

 

School B Merit Scholarship = $10,000

School A Tuition, Room & Board = $35,000

Merit Scholarship % = 29%

When sharing the details of another merit scholarship it’s important to share what percent of the tuition and room & board the scholarship represents, in addition to the dollar amount. You can stick with just sharing what the yearly amount is and don’t need to provide the full four-year amount.

Do we share a copy of the merit scholarship letter we got from the other college, and disclose exactly what has been offered, or do we keep that close to the vest?

There’s no need to share the letter from a different school, but you can disclose the exact amount your student was offered. It’s also good to be specific and ask for a reasonable amount of additional funds that will make it likely that your student will choose the school and attend.

Can you get anywhere with a top Ivy League school by showing them the full ride to a good state school?

No – Ivy and other generous schools that meet 100% of demonstrated need do not offer merit scholarships and do not match merit scholarships offered by other schools.

Elite schools will usually match another elite school’s need-based aid, if their offer was lower.

 

Miscellaneous Questions

Does deferral mean that the student is ineligible for the merit scholarship?

If your student is deferred it just means they were not accepted during the early admissions process and their application will be reviewed again during the regular decision phase.

Your student can still receive merit scholarships if they are accepted during regular decision.

I have a student in college who has award money already in place, but his sibling is making things extra tight. Should we consider appealing  for the student who is already in attendance at a college? 

If your financial situation has changed while your student is already enrolled at a college, you should appeal to financial aid outlining and documenting why and how things have changed.

If our student has auditioned and is being considered for a music scholarship, and already has academic merit offers, can we appeal the academic offer now or is that a bad idea?

It’s probably best to wait to know all the scholarships your student is being offered from the school before appealing.

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Road2College

Debbie Schwartz is former financial services executive and founder of Road2College and the Paying For College 101 Facebook group. She's dedicated to providing families with trustworthy information about college admissions and paying for college. With data, tools and access to experts she's helping families become educated consumers of higher ed.
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