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.
Table of Contents
Understanding Financial Aid
When you apply for financial aid to attend college, you will receive a document called a financial aid award letter. This letter will tell you what kinds of financial aid you can get, such as grants, scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans.
The financial aid award letter is sent to you by the college or university after you have been accepted for admission and have completed the necessary financial aid forms, such as the FAFSA and CSS/Profile. It is important that you read the letter carefully so that you understand what types of aid are being offered to you and any conditions or requirements that may come with each award.
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 Expected Family Contribution (EFC). EFC is the amount colleges expect you can pay in an academic year. But many times, the financial aid package leaves a gap.
- Gap is when the college does not meet your complete financial need. In other words, gap is the difference between the cost of attendance minus the financial aid provided and your EFC.
>More: How to Uncover Financial Aid
Remember that financial aid award letters can vary from school to school, so it is important to compare the offers you receive from different institutions. Look carefully at the types and amounts of aid being offered, as well as any differences in the COA and the types of loans available.
If you feel that you have not been offered enough financial aid, or if your financial situation has changed since you submitted your FAFSA or CSS Profile, you may be able to submit a financial aid appeal letter to ask for more aid. But you need to know the process and requirements for submitting an appeal, and understand that there are limits to what you can ask for.
Overall, the financial aid award letter is an important tool for you and your family as you figure out how to pay for college. By understanding the information in this letter, you can make informed decisions about where to attend school, how much you can afford to pay, and how to finance your education.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While it is true that there are no guarantees in life, especially when it comes to appealing for more financial aid, there are various possible outcomes when you present a compelling case to your college. It is essential to remain realistic and consider all possible scenarios while pursuing additional funds.
Outcome #1: You won't get any more money
Despite putting forth a convincing argument, the college might not increase your financial aid award. In this situation, expressing gratitude to the institution for considering your appeal is essential. Evaluate the school’s affordability and decide whether to proceed with enrollment or explore other options that better suit your financial situation.
Outcome #2: You'll get some additional money
In many cases, families who present a strong case for increased financial aid may receive an additional $1,000 to $5,000. This amount, when multiplied over four years, could provide almost $20,000 in extra financial support for college expenses. When you consider the time invested in the appeal process (usually around 3-4 hours), the potential return on investment is significant.
>>More: How to Pay for College
Outcome #3: You'll get a lot extra money
Substantial Additional Aid In some instances, families may be granted a considerable increase in financial aid, ranging from $10,000 to $30,000. This scenario typically applies to families with unique circumstances that warrant a reevaluation of their Expected Family Contribution (EFC), leading to additional need-based institutional and federal financial aid grants. Keep in mind that receiving need-based aid after an appeal may subject you to federal verification, a process that requires schools to review the accuracy of the financial information provided.
Keep reading for appeal financial aid letter sample to use to write your own letter.
Appeal Financial Aid Letter Sample 1
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
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
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.
Financial Aid Appeal FAQs
What is a financial aid appeal? A financial aid appeal is when you ask the college or university for more financial help because the initial offer they gave you isn’t enough. You can request more aid if your family’s financial situation has changed or if there are special circumstances to consider.
When should you consider an appeal? You should consider an appeal if there has been a significant change in your family’s financial situation, like a job loss, medical emergency, or unexpected expenses. You can also appeal if you believe the school didn’t consider all the information about your financial need.
- Who should write the appeal letter? The student applying for college should write their financial aid appeal letter. However, if the student is too young or needs help with writing, a parent or guardian can assist or write the letter on their behalf. Regardless of who writes the letter, it should be written in a clear and concise manner, focusing on the student’s situation and the reasons for requesting additional financial aid. Including the student’s perspective and experiences in the letter can make the appeal more compelling and personal.
How do you submit a financial aid appeal? To submit an appeal, you’ll need to write a letter to the financial aid office at the college or university. In the letter, explain your situation and why you need more aid. You should also provide any documents that support your case, like pay stubs, medical bills, or a letter from your parents.
What happens after you submit an appeal? The financial aid office will review your appeal and make a decision. They might ask for more information or documents before making their decision. If your appeal is approved, they will adjust your financial aid offer and send you a new award letter.
Can you appeal more than once? Usually, you can only submit one appeal per academic year. If your situation changes again or if you have new information to share, you might be able to submit another appeal.
What are the chances of a successful financial aid appeal? The chances of a successful financial aid appeal vary depending on the school and your individual circumstances. It’s important to have a strong case and provide clear evidence of your financial need. Keep in mind that not all appeals will be approved, but it’s worth trying if you genuinely need more assistance.
How long does the financial aid appeal process take? The time it takes for the financial aid office to review your appeal and make a decision can vary. Typically, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Make sure to submit your appeal as soon as possible and follow up with the financial aid office if you haven’t heard back in a reasonable amount of time.
Can I appeal for more merit-based scholarships or grants? While financial aid appeals are usually focused on need-based aid, you can also try appealing for more merit-based scholarships or grants. In your letter, highlight your academic achievements, talents, and any special circumstances that make you deserving of additional funding.
What if my financial aid appeal is denied? If your financial aid appeal is denied, you can explore other options to help cover your college expenses. These may include looking for outside scholarships, considering work-study opportunities, or taking out student loans. You can also talk to your school counselor or the financial aid office for more guidance.
Can I appeal my financial aid offer at multiple schools? Yes, you can appeal your financial aid offers at multiple schools if you have a legitimate reason for needing more assistance. However, make sure to tailor each appeal letter to the specific school and provide relevant information for each institution.
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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