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How to Appeal Financial Aid + Letter Sample

by Bethany Goldszer | Last Updated: January 2, 2022

If you’re reading this post, it’s likely because you want to appeal your financial aid award. Flash back to a few months ago when you filed the Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA form, sponsored by the U.S. State Department of Education, provided your family with the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) index. This number tells colleges how much they believe you can afford to pay for college. With this information, colleges created a financial aid package. 

You may have seen your EFC and immediately became overwhelmed by how much the college believes you can pay for college. You shrugged it off and thought, “this number can’t be real,” only to have a financial aid offer letter that expects you to pay more than the EFC. The first tuition bill is due in August. What are you going to do? 

If this is you, I advise you to appeal your financial aid package. Maybe you’re thinking you have no idea where to start. We’re here to help you. This post outlines how to understand your financial aid package and when and how to appeal and increase the chances you’ll get the best offer your student qualifies for. Below you’ll find an appeal financial aid letter sample you can use to write your own letter.

Key Takeaways

Table of Contents

Understanding Financial Aid

Before you appeal your financial aid package, you must know how to read it. Here’s a rundown of the most important things to know.

  • The financial aid award letter can include up to four types of financial aid, including Scholarships, Grants, Loans, and Work/Study. 
  • A financial aid package is the Cost of Attendance (COA) (e.g., tuition, room, board, fees, books, supplies, etc.) minus your financial responsibility. 
  • Ideally, it covers at least up to your EFC. But many times, the financial aid package leaves a gap. 
  • Gap is when the college does not meet your complete financial need (COA – EFC).

>>More: How to Uncover Financial Aid

When assessing your financial aid package, you should look for a college that comes as close to meeting your financial need as possible. To illustrate, let’s examine two scenarios below.

Scenario A: Jamie has an EFC of $20,000. She’s been admitted into Berry College, who has a COA is $54,000. Jamie receives merit scholarships, need-based grants, and federal loans totally $34,000. When subtracting financial aid from the college’s cost of attendance, the college has met 100% of Jamie’s financial need.

Scenario B: Victor has an EFC of $40,000. He’s been admitted into Drexel University, who has a COA of $75,000. Victor receives a merit scholarship of $25,000 and a $5,500 federal loan, for a total of $40,000 in financial aid. When subtracting Drexel’s aid offer from the COA, Victor is left with a gap of $4,500 of unmet financial need.

Unfortunately, scenario B is more common than A. Most schools won’t meet your full financial need. Contrary, the majority of students and families will see packages that meet between 70-90% of their needs. If this is true for your family, you have strong reason to appeal your financial aid package.

Appealing your financial aid award means requesting the college review your student’s financial aid application. The appeal process will lead the college to re-evaluate your family’s situation to see if you qualify for additional resources, such as merit scholarships, need-based grants, federal grants, loans, and work-study.

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Why Appeal Your Financial Aid Package

There are a few reasons to appeal your financial aid package, but the most compelling are: you received a better offer, or financial circumstances have changed since completing the FAFSA.

Mistakes on FAFSA. It’s not uncommon for families to make mistakes on the actual FAFSA form. While you can edit most fields in the form, you may not realize the errors until receiving your financial aid package. Also, if you used the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (IRS DRT), details may not copy over accurately. Your EFC may calculate high, not reflecting your real family income. This has happened to retired parent filers collecting a pension or social security benefits. I had a parent whose EFC showed $1,000,000 after using the IRS DRT! Check out FAFSA Step-by-Step guide.

Another school offered a better package. Two years ago, I had a student accepted into Ithaca College and Bard College. While his top choice was Ithaca, Bard offered more financial aid. We sent a letter to Ithaca outlining Bard’s financial assistance. Within a week, Ithaca’s financial aid office issued a new award letter that topped Bard’s award. Immediately, the student accepted Ithaca’s offer.

Family finances have changed. The FAFSA and CSS Profile, the form required by 400 colleges and universities in the United States, lags by two years. Like many families, your current financial circumstances may have changed by the time colleges assess your financial information. Suppose, when receiving your financial aid package, you have experienced job loss, reduced hours, divorce, death, business closure, or significant medical expenses. Maybe you have unusual property taxes or some unusual settlement. In New York, many families had to send their children to private schools this year because their public schools closed during the pandemic. So that’s due to a natural disaster. 

If you’ve experienced any of these challenges and have supporting documents to back it up, you should consider appealing your financial aid letter and requesting a professional judgment review. A professional judgment review is a superpower given to financial aid administrators by the U.S. Department of Education to consider unusual circumstances that impact your federal financial aid eligibility and use their discretion to make adjustments to your Expected Family Contribution. If your EFC declines, you may qualify for additional need-based financial aid. This does not apply to merit scholarship re-consideration.

man and woman discussing financial aid package

Special Circumstances can provide students an opportunity appeal their financial information submitted on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) due to a change since filing the FAFSA.

When to Appeal Your Financial Aid Package

The best time to appeal your financial aid package is once you have received financial aid offers for your top colleges. At face value, it may be difficult to tell who’s giving you the better package, so put aid details into an excel spreadsheet, which you can also use as a discussion guide with your student about college costs. Look for comparable schools (e.g., privates vs. privates and publics vs. publics) to see where there’s a good opportunity to ask for more. For example, let’s suppose School A gave you a $3,500 scholarship, and School B provided you with $7,000. You can ask School A to match School B’s offer in your appeal letter.

Start by appealing financial aid for your top schools, then work your way down the list. The process can take two to three months, so don’t delay too long after receiving your financial aid package.

when and how to appeal financial aid

How to Successfully Appeal Financial Aid

Step 1. Learn your school’s process for appealing financial aid. It will vary from school to school, so make sure you check before starting.

Step 2. Gather documentation to support your case if you have a special circumstance. Or other school financial aid offers to compare and refer to in your letter.

Step 3. Write an appeal letter. The letter should be formal, typed, and no longer than one page. Be sure to address the letter to a specific person who handles appeals.

Step 4. Send your letter (or upload into an online portal), depending on the college.

Step 5. Follow up with a phone call to ensure your appeal letter is received.

Step 6. Wait for a response. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. 

Step 7. Regardless of the success of your appeal, send a thank you letter to the college for considering your case.

How to Write Your Financial Aid Appeal Letter

Before you start a letter, do your research. You should be familiar with the college’s aid sources and their limits. For instance:

  • The Pell Grant’s maximum award amount is $6,495 for 2021-2022.
  • The maximum Federal Direct Loan amount is $5,500 as an incoming student.

It is worth time researching the scholarships and grant norms for the school. For example, your award letter to Marist College shows a Presidential Scholarship for $12,500. But let’s say that after researching the school’s financial aid websites or discussion boards like Quora.com, you learn that other students have received awards up to $25,000, then perhaps it’s worth asking Marist for the entire award. For better outcomes on merit scholarships, it’s worth updating the college on your credentials (e.g., higher grades, standardized test scores, new awards, honors, etc.) that show you’re worth the increased amount.

Another tip is that if your award shows a grant, you qualify for need-based aid. So you can ask the school to raise the amount offered to meet your need better, especially if you can show special circumstances shared above.

The best letters come from the student (not the parent). Remember that financial aid officers are humans. Humans are emotional about money. There’s nothing that pulls on the heartstrings more than a student taking the initiative to ask for more funds to make their college dreams come true. Also, the higher you rank in the incoming class or the value you bring to the class in terms of diversity, for example, the more leverage you’ll have in the negotiation.

Here’s what you should say in your letter:

  • Express gratitude for being admitted and the initial financial aid offer
  • The excitement you have about the prospect of attending the school
  • Share how hard you’ve worked in school and the contributions you intend to make
  • Ask for a specific amount
  • Give a clear reason you are requesting additional support
  • Information about offers from other schools to use as a bargaining chip
  • Insight into special circumstances that may explain financial hardships that your family is having that support the need for additional aid

Keep reading to find appeal financial aid letter sample wording below. 

Other Tips to Increase Chances

You should also follow the tips below to increase your chances of getting a higher financial aid award. 

  • Follow the process to a “T.” If the financial aid letter does not details the school’s appeal process, call the financial aid office to find out.
  • The student writes the letter. It means a lot more coming from the person who hopes to attend the college. Parents can write the letter with the student to help with finance specifics. The letter should be no more than one page.
  • Address the letter to a specific person to make the formal letter more personal. Search on the school’s website for the name of the person the letter should be addressed to. If not available, call the school.
  • Follow up the letter with a phone call to the financial aid office and person you sent the letter to. A quick follow-up can lead to faster response times on your case and ensure it doesn’t go into a black hole. The student can make the phone call, but the parent can take over to discuss specific financial matters or make an appointment for a future date.
  • Virtual Zoom visits. More schools are offering virtual zoom visits to discuss your appeal. A face-to-face conversation is a great way to make the case and appeal to the human side. Virtual meetings can take place with both the student and the parent.
  • Leverage Campus Welcoming Events. Many colleges offer accepted student days for incoming students who have not yet decided to enroll. These special events hosted by colleges to welcome into the new class and entice students and families to commit can serve the dual purpose of getting in front of financial aid. If they know that the only thing stopping you from attending is the financial aid package, you may get your case considered on the spot. Last school year, a client met with a financial aid administrator, who boosted her offer another $5,000 after the first appeal.
  • Patience. Allow time ahead of May 1 to appeal your package. It may take up to two months to hear back from the college. And they may ask for additional information along the way. 

Wait as long as you can until May 1st to get the package you deserve. Many colleges boost offers in the final week of April to increase enrollment.

watch over one dollar bills

Possible Outcomes

The success of your financial aid appeal varies from school to school. You can expect one of three possible outcomes.

You won't get any more money

Unfortunately, nothing’s guaranteed in life, which is true for appealing your financial aid package. As compelling as your case may be, sometimes colleges will not increase your award. If this happens, reply with a thank you note to the college. You’ll have to decide if the school is affordable or go somewhere else.

You'll get some additional money

More often, though, in my experience, families who make a strong case for additional financial aid will receive $1,000 to $5,000 more. Multiply this number by four years, and you’re looking at nearly $20,000 in further financial assistance to pay for college. If you think about how many hours you put into this, on average, 3-4 hours, that comes out to the best pot of money you’ve ever made.

You'll get a lot extra money

Some families get significantly more financial aid, between $10,000 and $30,000. For example, families with special circumstances often receive additional financial aid because their EFC was recalculated and sparked need-based institutional and federal financial aid grants. Important to note: if you get need-based aid after an appeal, you may be selected for federal verification, a process for schools to review the accuracy of the financial information reported.

Keep reading for appeal financial aid letter sample to use to write your own letter.

Appeal Financial Aid Letter Sample 1

To Whom It May Concern:

My name is Brandon X, and I have recently been accepted to Marist College for the Fall 2018. I am writing to respectfully update (from letter sent on April 11, 2018) my consideration for appeal of my financial aid award package. I am extremely grateful to Marist College for the grants, loans and work-study that have been awarded to me thus far, totaling $25,500. However I still have a large gap after financial aid, much higher than what I initially thought upon writing my first appeal letter sent to Marist, nearly $13,000. This would place tremendous burden on my family and make it difficult for me to attend Marist, my dream school.

I feel that my financial situation is unique, making college costs especially challenging for my family. Currently, I live with my mother who is a single parent and underemployed. The cost of living in New York is quite high, so my mother struggles to pay bills on her income. On the FAFSA, my EFC is $25,154, which considers my dad’s income, who no longer lives with us. My father sends child support that goes towards daily expenses and bills. My parents are in the process of divorcing and my father is unable to contribute to my college education. I have no one else to help with financing my college education.

Please consider me for additional financial aid. I am requesting an additional $9,000. An increased award of this size would make attending Marist a reality for me. If you have questions, or need additional documents, please contact me at brandon123@mail.com or 516-555-1234.

Sincerely,

Brandon X, Class of 2022

Appeal financial aid letter sample 1 works because Brandon explains his situation clearly, which qualifies as a special circumstance. He makes a specific dollar amount ask. Ultimately, Marist College awarded him the requested $9,000.

Appeal Financial Aid Letter Sample 2

Dear Financial Aid Officer:

I recently sent my deposit to admissions and am excited that I'll be attending the University of Miami in Fall 2021! I am beyond excited right now. This letter is in regards to my financial aid package. I want to express my gratitude for receiving such a generous package when our family is dealing with my mother's Metastatic Breast Cancer diagnosis. Our financial situation is not great at the moment with expensive hospital bills. The financial aid package offered has given me hope that we may be able to afford my dream school financially, and for that, I could not be more thankful.

However, after thoroughly looking through the financial aid package, calculating expenses, and the uncertainty in my father's participation in providing for my college education financially, I hope you will consider meeting my need a bit more.

Would it be possible to offer the maximum Federal Direct Subsidized Loan and offer me the full Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan? These adjustments would help my family so much and make financing the rest less stressful for my mother, who’s fighting so hard right now.

Again, I am beyond thankful for everything I have received thus far and cannot wait to attend the University of Miami this Fall.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Jessica B.

Appeal financial aid letter sample 1 works because Jessica explains her situation and mentions the particular financial aid types offered by University of Miami. On top of federal loans, the school offered her an additional $42,000 in need-based grants. 

Appeal Financial Aid Letter Sample 3

Dear Financial Aid Officer:

First, I just want to say how happy, thankful and excited I was, and still am, when I received my acceptance letter to Boston University! Throughout my high school career, I have worked so hard to get into BU. And learning last week that I was accepted is one of the greatest moments of my life.

Unfortunately, I was saddened by my financial aid package which listed a total of $2,100 in grants, and a total of $7,500 with loans. This makes the cost of attending BU, $58,200 per year for my family. Since 2014, we have had a change in our financial circumstances that would make it challenging to pay this amount.

In the year 2014, my dad’s company had a drastic downturn. I made sure I kept my grades and GPA high, thinking this will help me get into Boston University. Unfortunately, last year we were told that the bank will foreclose on our home if we didn’t have the last 3 months mortgage payments. Unfortunately, we didn’t. The process started and as the months passed, we finally had a final notice that we had to move out in June. My mom started to talk to some friends and made a connection to a lawyer who specializes in foreclosures. He couldn’t promise anything, but he said he would try to “stall” the bank and keep us in the house until I graduate high school so I can graduate with my friends.

Now in 2016, it is getting closer, but we are still hoping that we don’t have to move out until the end of June. My dad is working very hard, but last year he only made $10,000, though my mom’s paycheck is helping with the house insurance and bills, it is still so hard. I found a job earlier this year off the books and I am helping wherever I can. I thought for sure I would get at least BU Assurance for $15,000 per year. That was the number I was working with and then included Aid and a private student loan.

As per request on the Special Circumstances section of the financial aid website, I have included a copy of my parent's 2015 Tax Returns and an Income Verification Worksheet. Please review the documents attached and reconsider my request for aid. My family can afford to pay $111,000 for my college education. I am requesting that BU consider providing me with an additional $51,600 bringing my financial aid for all 4 years to $60,000, which breaks down to $15,000 in BU Assurance per year, which can include work/study.

I appreciate your time. Thank you so much in advance for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Thomas E, Class of 2021

Appeal financial aid letter sample 1 works because Thomas shares his special circumstance, points to a particular Boston University grant he may qualify for, and offers evidence to support his case. Thomas secured $60,000 in aid across four years plus work-study.

Conclusion + Next Steps

If your financial aid offer is lower than you can afford to pay, you should appeal your financial aid package. You’ll need to understand your award letter, then move forward and write a compelling letter to increase the chances you’ll get the best offer you qualify for. 

Now that you’ve read this post, you know when and how to appeal your financial aid package. Follow the steps laid out above, and you’ll be well on your way to increasing your financial aid offers. If you need additional resources for college, be sure to check out the post on Why Apply for Scholarships and download the Scholarship Starter Pack.

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Bethany Goldszer is top college admissions and financial aid expert. She's been featured in HuffPost, USA Today, Newsday, Queens Gazette, and Official Black Wall Street & voted Best of Long Island. Faced with the overwhelming stress of applying, getting admitted to and financing her University of Chicago education, she started Stand Out College Prep LLC in 2012 so that no student or parent would have to go through this process alone. Over the last 15 years, Bethany has worked with over 1,500 students, helping them and their parents get into their top choice colleges and secure more than $20M in financial aid and scholarships. And each year, she continues to help more students stand out in the college admissions process and their parents navigate financial aid and scholarships.