When Should You Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter?
You received the financial award letter for your student, but you’re disappointed. It’s nowhere near what you wanted – or needed. What do you do?
In some cases, writing an appeal letter can make a difference. The school may reconsider your award and give you more money. It may not be everything you ask for, but every little bit helps.
On the other hand, sometimes the decision is final. Or, your circumstances may not merit a reconsideration. In that case, you’re wasting your time.
How do you know the difference?
A Lot of Families Ask for Reconsideration
Don’t feel like you’re being too forward by asking for more money. It happens all the time. The good news is that many of them are awarded more money. At many private schools, half or more of the appeals are granted.
However, schools are very aware of the cost of giving more money. There is criteria; you need to make sure you have a really strong case, and a reason beyond “I wasn’t happy with this award.”
Schools need students, but they don’t want to “discount” the school too far. Finding the balance is key to a successful financial aid appeal.
Keep in mind that schools cannot impact the amount of federal money your student was awarded. Federal awards are based on specific limits and financial need. The only appeal the school can consider is the institutional aid.
Appeal if Your Financial Situation Has Changed
If your financial situation has changed since your initial aid application, you have the best chance of getting an adjustment to your award. Nothing is guaranteed, but showing a significant financial difference may cause the school to see your appeal in a favorable light.
Some situations that qualify in this category include job loss, reduced income, death or disability of a parent or direct family member, natural disasters or parental credit problems.
It may be embarrassing to explain some of these problems, but for an appeal to be considered, it has to be documented in writing. If you think some changes may happen, but they haven’t happened yet, expect the school to wait until the situation resolves before you get an answer.
Don’t be unreasonable or try to create problems that don’t exist. We know you love your pets, for instance, but medical care for a pet won’t be considered an acceptable additional expense.
Appeal if an Error Was Made
You’re fallible, and loan officers are only human as well. Given that financial aid paperwork is complex, it’s easy to make a mistake.
If you think an error was made, that’s a great reason to appeal. Maybe something was overlooked regarding divorce arrangements, step-parent income, or home ownership. Maybe self-employment income was overreported or expenses were missed.
One way to spot an error is if similar schools offer radically different awards. You might also notice something yourself on a second run through the paperwork. If you do, be sure to document the mistake, and ask for a correction as soon as possible.
Appeal if a Similar School Gave a Bigger Award
Some of the major universities, like Cornell and Carnegie Mellon, have a clear policy of matching awards made by other Ivy League schools. This may only apply to freshmen or first-year students, however.
Even so, if one school awards a higher aid package, but your student prefers a similar one instead, you may be able to appeal based on the other award. Keep in mind that not all schools will match, and this may be a need-based aid only match in cases where merit aid isn’t offered.
Be aware of how much need-based aid and merit aid your student is offered from each school. Some schools will not match merit aid. And if the colleges are not of equal stature, they will feel no need to match the other school’s offer.
When Not to Appeal an Award
How do you know when you’re just wasting time? There are some pretty clear times that appealing won’t make a difference.
You Have Avoidably High Living Expenses
If your family lives in Los Angeles or New York, it’s understandable that your housing expense is outrageous. But most of the time, if you have high living expenses that aren’t essential, you won’t win an appeal. Expensive new car payments, private camps, or a multi-thousand-dollar mortgage aren’t going to elicit sympathy from the financial aid board.
The School Isn’t Your Student’s First Choice
Don’t spend time and energy on a school your student isn’t sold on! The goal is not to get the highest award from every school. Instead, it’s to make sure that your student can afford to attend the school they choose. Sometimes, your family won’t be able to afford it and your student will need to attend a second choice. But save the appeals process for schools that are important to your student.
When There’s No Change or Special Circumstance
If you don’t have a reason for appeal beyond, “We hoped for more money,” your appeal is unlikely to succeed. If everything about your situation has already been considered, the award you have is the award the school is ready to offer.
Ready to Construct Your Financial Aid Appeal?
Have you decided it’s worthwhile to appeal your student’s award? Make sure you do it right. Creating the right appeal letter will give you a much better chance of having your case approved!
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