How to Write a Successful Financial Aid Appeal Letter

How to Write a Successful Financial Aid Appeal Letter

If the award you received from your student’s preferred school isn’t enough, you may feel deflated. Is it time to tell your child that they need to move on, and choose a school with a better package?

Not yet.

There are times when it makes sense to appeal the financial aid package If you’re in one of those situations, how do you give yourself the best chance of success?

Follow these tips to help you write a letter that gives you the best chance of success. Nothing is guaranteed, but these steps will help.


Have Your Student Write All Communication

This recommendation is rather controversial amongst the parents we know, 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 it.

You will probably want to say something about how your child wanted to write it, but they weren’t aware of every detail. That will explain the situation better.


Contact the School to Find Out the 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.

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.


Writing a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

There will be a financial aid appeal form that will be required, along with documentation of any change or competing offer. However, the letter is the personal appeal. Your student should share why they feel an appeal is warranted, and why they want to attend the school.

Open With Thanks

The first thing to do is acknowledge the award already received and express gratitude for it. Your student should explain how excited they are to attend the school, and how glad they are that the school offers help so that students can afford to attend.


Next, the letter should express regret because the current financial aid package doesn’t allow your student to fulfill their desire 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 is not a strong reason. Illness, death, job loss or an additional child in school, however, can be very strong reasons.


Be careful about the language in the letter. Never refer to the situation as a “negotiation,” because financial aid offices don’t negotiate. Instead, be clear that your student understands the decision but feels 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 appeals letter to vent frustration or insult the school, process or officer. Obviously, that won’t help you win anything!


Finally, include any forms required by the school, 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 include those as your documentation as well.


When to Appeal a Financial Aid Award

Schools receive a lot of appeals and there are many moving parts. Students that are offered aid and decide not to attend may free up money, and that money can be eaten up fast by those in need.

If you plan to appeal, have your student reach out as quickly as possible after receiving the award. This will give you the best chance of getting attention, and it’s possible more money will be available earlier than later.


Say Thank You!

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.

What’s one way to stand out? Send a thank you letter after you get the appeal information! This is the time to be as nice as you’ve ever been in your life. You and your student should be grateful and kind throughout the entire process – this 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!


Tips From Parents Who Have Appealed 

Reviewing sample appeal letters would be fabulous, and getting great tips from parents in our Paying For College 101 Facebook group is equally helpful.  Here are a collection of suggestions parents who had appealed financial aid awards had…

  • “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.”
  • “We had a College Financial Advisor draft a letter from my husband and I on behalf of our son. We discussed our income and the fact we have another in college and also discussed offers from other schools. We received $2,500 more in aid. The information in our particular case would not have been something our son would have written about. We did emphasize it was his top choice with the great program.”
  • “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 son’s appeal had to come from us – it was based on special circumstances and he has no access to those documents. He did receive more need-based. He is appealing again this year. My daughter’s school does not offer need-based and there is no appeal process.”
  • “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.”
  • “Very sad because our appeal didn’t work. It probably sealed the deal that my twin sons won’t go to that school and it is likely their favorite.”
  • “As a former admissions counselor and financial aid officer, I would like to offer some thoughts on asking colleges for more financial aid: Financial Aid offices (FAO) don’t like feeling manipulated or jerked around. Don’t call up like a hard-ass, saying ‘College Z just gave my kid more $, so what are you going to do about it?’ Be sincere, and be prepared to commit ASAP if you get what you’re asking for. You are likely to get more aid if you’re grateful for what you’ve been given and can explain in concrete terms why you feel you need more, and why your child loves this college more than College Z.”
  • “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.”

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.


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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.