If you’ve recently received your college financial aid offer and it’s less than what you need, you’re not alone. Many students find themselves in this position, but there’s a proactive step you can take: writing a financial aid appeal letter.
While the prospect might seem daunting, it’s a well-established and often successful part of navigating college finances.
In this guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of financial aid appeal letters. You’ll learn when it’s appropriate to submit an appeal, and how to effectively articulate your needs in a way that resonates with financial aid offices.
Remember, your situation is unique, and if there have been changes in your financial circumstances or if you have reasons to believe the initial offer falls short, an appeal might be the right course of action. Our goal is to provide you with a clear roadmap for crafting a financial aid appeal letter that is both professional and persuasive.
When Should You Submit a Financial Aid Appeal?
Appealing a financial aid package is appropriate when there’s a significant change in a family’s financial circumstances, like job loss, or when the initial offer is insufficient to cover educational expenses. Appeals should be made as soon as possible after receiving the award letter.
This will give you the best chance of getting attention, and it’s possible more money will be available earlier than later. Students who are offered aid and decide not to attend may free up money, and that money can be eaten up fast by those in need.
Do not contact the school and ask to appeal for more money before you receive your initial award from financial aid. The college won’t even review it. If you haven’t received their award yet, and you think you have completed all necessary paperwork, reach out to the school to get an estimated time frame of when the award will be sent.
Contact the School to Find Out the Financial Aid Appeal Process
Experts recommend writing an email to the financial aid office in order to find out what the appeal process is. Trying to call, especially during a busy time, can result in endless voicemails.
Instead, have your student write to financial aid and ask about the appeals process. While the email does not need to be as detailed or formal as the eventual appeal letter, it should explain that there are additional circumstances and your child wishes to appeal.
During busy times, it can also be helpful to reach out to the student’s admissions counselor for information about the financial aid appeal process. Some schools manage appeals for merit aid through admissions and appeals for need-based aid through the financial aid office.
Every school will have its own process. Some will be more open to reconsideration than others. Be sure to pay attention to the details the school sends you and follow the steps closely.
Students, Not Parents, Should Write All Communication
This recommendation is rather controversial among parents, but we believe that the best thing you can do with the appeal is to have it come from your child.
They are the one who will be attending, and they are the one that the aid package directly affects. The school wants to hear from them.
If there are reasons your student can’t write the letter, for instance they don’t understand all the financial details, then you, as the parent, can write a supporting letter explaining the financial details in more depth. This way, your student is still getting involved in the process and writing their initial letter, but you are providing more details to show the full picture.
How to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter
The student should write a respectful personal appeal explaining why the appeal is warranted and reiterating why they want to attend the college. The letter may be accompanied by a financial aid appeal form and documentation of any financial changes you’ve experienced.
To get a feel for your approach, read these two sample financial aid appeal letters. You can use the samples as a guide to create your own appeal letter that is specific to your family’s situation.
How to Structure Your Appeal Letter
- Open with thanks: The first thing to do is acknowledge the award already received and express gratitude for it. Explain how excited you are to attend the school, and how glad you are that the school offers help so that students can afford to attend.
- Explain the shortfall: Next, the letter should express regret because the current financial aid package doesn’t allow you to attend the school.
Express the financial considerations that make attending the school difficult or impossible with the current aid package. Of course, these should be strong reasons.
Paying for a second home or a parent’s desire to retire are not considered strong reasons to appeal. Illness, death, job loss or an additional child in school, however, can be very strong reasons.
Also, if your GPA or test scores have increased significantly since your initial application to the school, mention that in the letter.
- Use careful, respectful language: Never refer to the situation as a “negotiation,” because financial aid offices don’t negotiate. Instead, be clear that you that you understand the decision but feel there are additional circumstances to consider.
Be extremely respectful, and use the name of the financial aid officer if at all possible. Never use the appeal letter to vent frustration or insult the school, process, or officer. That won’t help you win anything.
- Include documentation: Include any forms required by the school, such as a special circumstances form, along with documentation of any extra expenses. Perhaps the FAFSA didn’t reflect costs your family has from helping ailing grandparents, for instance. If competing offers are in play, you can also include those as documentation for your financial aid appeal.
- Follow up with a thank-note: Remember that financial aid officers are working their tail off during this time. They are hearing from so many families and considering so many situations, it’s exhausting. So you can stand out by sending a thank-you note after you get the appeal information. Tthis will mean a lot to the financial aid office, even if they can’t grant your appeal.Even if you get a “no,” you never know when you might need an ally in financial aid in the future. If additional funds become available, the financial aid office may be more likely to remember your student if they were respectful and responsive during the appeal process.
Tips From Parents Who Have Completed a Financial Aid Appeal
Here are a collection of suggestions and testimonials that were shared in our Paying for College 101 Facebook group by parents who completed the financial aid appeal process.
- “The appeal needs to come from the student, not the parent. Also, if you have a higher offer that you want them to match, show it. No guarantees at all.”
- “Appeal before paying any deposits.”
- “Appealed before depositing and got $3,000 more in financial aid and in addition also appealed the merit aid through admissions because my daughters gpa went up so we sent updated third quarter grades and her merit scholarship went up $3,000 also.”
- “We appealed and received an additional $1,000 in aid. Be honest, explain why you need the additional help, note any changes.”
- “My daughter called financial aid and they directed her to the website and the specific form she needed. Her appeal was not based on a change in our financial situation. She just wrote about why she wanted to go there, what she loved about the program and the university in general.”
- “We successfully appealed for an increase in financial aid at UNC last year. They doubled an out-of-state student grant and gave a laptop grant. We used a very similar letter rubric: ecstatic to get an offer of admission. Mentioned new awards and continues to excel in classroom. Thanks for the package they put together. Described new circumstances that couldn’t be reflected on FASFA, more aid would help our decision, comparable school scholarship offers. Offered to meet face to face but via phone preferred.”
>> RELATED: Tips on Appealing Financial Aid Decisions
You Can Also Appeal Merit Scholarship Decisions
As with need-based aid, you must provide a good reason for appealing a scholarship decision. A college may sweeten its merit offer if you can show offers from other colleges, improvements in your test score or GPA, or a noteworthy award. A lot depends on how much the school wants you as a student.
Colleges are concerned about competitors, and if you are at the top of their applicant pool and the college wants you to accept their offer, they will be more inclined to offer more money.
Be sure to explain that this is your top school and more money will guarantee you accept their offer of admission.
Comparing Financial Aid Offers
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could compare your student’s financial aid offer against what other students were offered at the same school?
To help families do just this, Road2College crowdsources financial aid and merit scholarship offers in our Compare College Offers tool.
Families can submit all their students offers and compare the net cost of each school. Then, families can see offers from other students at the same school.
By comparing student profiles with similar characteristics, like GPA, test scores, and family EFC range, families can decide whether the offer they received is fair or not.
Nothing Is Guaranteed
Obviously no appeal is guaranteed to work, but you may be surprised how much extra aid your student ends up with, so it’s good to try! If you have a great reason for reconsideration, don’t hesitate to reach out for an appeal.
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.
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