How to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter
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College is an expensive prospect, so when making your college decisions, affordability is a major consideration. Financial aid can be a key part of the puzzle, and make an otherwise inaccessible school into a feasible possibility for you. You’ll typically receive your financial aid award letter around the same time as your acceptance to a college, so you can take it into account as you make your final decision.
But what if a college that’s otherwise a great fit for you doesn’t award you enough aid to make it a workable option? This can be a really frustrating experience, as we’ve covered in our post You Were Accepted to Your Dream College, but Can’t Afford it… Now What?
However, you may have a second chance. Many colleges allow you to file an appeal to your financial aid award, asking for a new review of your application materials and a new assessment of how much aid you’ll be given. There are many variables that are considered, so a better offer isn’t guaranteed, but filing an appeal may be worth a try.
If you’re interested in appealing your financial aid award, it’s essential that you act fast, follow the correct procedures, and provide all the right information, often in the form of a letter stating your case. Here are the steps you’ll need to take to put together a professional and persuasive financial aid appeal letter.
Evaluate Your Situation
First of all, you’ll need to decide whether it’s worthwhile for you to file an appeal, as it will take some time and work on your part. Generally, the basis for your appeal will be that your family can’t afford to pay as much as the school considers them able to pay, so you’re in need of additional financial aid.
Your case will be strongest if you can show that the school’s assessment of your original financial aid application was incomplete or inaccurate in some way. For example, if the college overestimated your family’s financial resources, or if your financial circumstances have changed since that initial application, your aid award may not match your current reality.
It helps if you can show that another college with similar overall financial aid policies has awarded you a larger financial aid package. Being a recruited athlete or other highly desirable “hooked” candidate may also give you some leverage, though policies vary from school to school.
If you’re still strongly interested in a college after receiving all your acceptances, and you believe an error was made in your first run through the financial aid process, it may be time to file an appeal.
Review the College’s Financial Aid Policies and Procedures
Financial aid appeals occur within your school’s existing financial aid process. This means that you’ll need to fully understand your school’s aid policies and procedures before you file your appeal. If your college only awards aid on the basis of need, or if they guarantee to cover 100% of every student’s demonstrated need, these are facts you need to know to structure your letter.
Every school has a different philosophy and set of policies for awarding aid. These differences can be particularly apparent when you’re dealing with issues like how divorced parents split college costs, how outside scholarships count against institutional aid, and whether students are routinely expected to take out loans.
You may not always agree with a school’s fundamental financial aid policies or think they’re fair, but these are the constraints you’re working within. Barring exceptional circumstances, it’s unlikely that your college will make an exception to these rules for you. If your circumstances are truly unusual, it’s fine to at least ask for special consideration, but it may not be granted.
Speak to a Financial Aid Officer
If you’ve already been accepted to a college, this often means that a specific financial aid officer has been assigned to you. This is likely the person who reviewed your original aid application, so they’re familiar with your case already. Even if you don’t already have an assigned officer, the financial aid office likely has staff on hand to answer questions, especially in the busy period when students are trying to make final college decisions.
Talking to a financial aid officer about the details of your situation can help you decide whether it’s worthwhile to appeal your award. Remember, however, that your officer can’t give you a new financial aid decision right then and there—you’ll have to go ahead with the appeal and review process to get real answers.
Even if you can’t get in touch with your assigned financial aid officer, it’s still wise to speak to someone in the financial aid office to ensure that you have the correct directions and deadlines. It’s far better to double-check now than to make a mistake that will jeopardize your appeal.
Whatever the issue with your financial aid award, you’ll need to back up the statements in your appeal letter with documented facts. Take a moment to collect the documents you’ll need so that you can refer to them while you’re writing.
In addition to the award letter you’re appealing, you should have on hand the original aid application information you submitted, such as your FAFSA data. What else you’ll need depends on the specifics of your situation, but could include proof of major expenses (like medical bills), documentation of a parent’s job loss, financial statements, legal documents, or competing award letters from other colleges.
You’ll need to submit copies of these documents along with your letter so that you can show as well as tell why your award should be reconsidered. Some schools may even be able to accept certain documents as scans via email, but you should always check first—sometimes this is not possible for security reasons.
Structure Your Argument
First of all, remind the college that you want to attend! There’s a reason why this school chose you and you chose this school; it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Explain that despite this desire, unless your financial aid is increased, you won’t likely be able to enroll.
Then, cover why you need more aid. If the current expected family contribution would represent an extreme hardship for your family, say so, and explain the situation. If you have a better offer from another college with similar aid policies, point out the discrepancy, and ask if this college can match the offer. If anything about your financial status has changed your family’s ability to pay, include this as well.
Refer to your supporting documents to bolster your argument with specifics. Sometimes people are reluctant to share these personal financial details, but if you’re arguing that your financial need is higher than it seems, you’ll need to demonstrate it with documentation.
Be direct and stick to the facts. Don’t try to compare yourself to what you may have heard about other students and their awards, and be realistic about your family’s financial status. Focus on the numbers: the amount of aid you’ve initially been awarded, and the amount you’ll need to make that school a feasible option.
Get Help Reviewing Your Letter
Just as with application essays, someone reliable should review your letter before you submit it. Paying attention to grammar, spelling, and typos helps to show that you take the situation seriously.
Tone is also deeply important here, so ask your reviewer to consider it. In requesting that your financial aid be reevaluated, you’re asking for a big favor from the college and its financial aid staff, and you don’t want to appear entitled or unreasonable. As always, be polite, mature, and professional, and thank the financial aid office for their time and help.
Since this letter concerns your family and your collective financial situation, have your parents or other interested parties check it for accuracy. If your financial situation is particularly complex, it might make sense to have your family’s financial or legal advisor read over it as well, just to make sure you don’t misrepresent the facts.
Send Your Letter to the Right Place
Your appeal letter has to get into the hands of the right person at the right time, and it has to contain the right information to match it to your financial aid account. This step seems quite simple, but you’d be surprised how many people mess it up—I sorted mail when I worked in financial aid, and I saw significant mistakes being made every day. Some could be rerouted or otherwise corrected, but this takes time and delays your appeal process.
Errors happen, but do your best to head them off. For physical mail, double-check the address you’re sending it to; call the financial aid office to check again if you’re unsure. Use clear handwriting or printed labels. For extra reassurance, you might choose to use Priority Mail or another service with features like tracking and receipt confirmation.
As we’ve mentioned, your school may accept some documents via email, but ask them before you do so. Double-check the email address you’re sending them to, of course, and make sure any scanned documents you’re sending are legible.
For any appeal letter, be very clear about who you are, so that your letter and documents are filed to the correct account. Include your full name and applicant or student ID number on everything you send in. If your school has special requirements about which identifying information to include, follow those directions exactly. (Be aware that if any of your documents are in languages other than English, you’ll need to have them translated first.)
It’s a good idea to follow up within a week or so to make sure your information made it to the right place and ask how long you’ll need to wait for a response. Just don’t overdo it; appeals take time, and bugging your financial aid officer excessively for updates will only take away from the time they have to work on your case.
Maintain a Backup Plan
A financial aid appeal is simply a request to have your financial aid application reconsidered, often in the light of new information; it’s not a guarantee of a favorable outcome. The college may decide not to increase your financial aid, or to increase it less than you would like. You need to be prepared for this possibility, especially with the May 1st decision deadline looming.
You’ll need to have some serious discussions with your family about your options. It may be that you can figure out a way to pay for and attend the school regardless of the outcome of your appeal—for example, perhaps your parents could take out a loan. It may be that if your appeal doesn’t result in more aid, another college is a better and more responsible choice for you. Only you can weigh all the factors and make a final decision.
Financial aid officers do their best to get appeals processed quickly, but the process can be complex, and sometimes a decision isn’t available by the May 1st deadline. If you’re determined to wait for the outcome of your appeal, you may be able to commit to two schools, the school where you’re appealing and another school. (Check each school’s policies to make sure they don’t specifically prohibit this.) Bear in mind that if a deposit is required at the school you don’t end up attending, you stand to lose that deposit—but this may be worth it to you in the long run.
College affordability matters a great deal; the best college application in the world won’t be of much use if attending that college is not financially feasible. Thankfully, widespread financial aid and scholarship opportunities exist, and make exceptional colleges into reasonable options for a much greater range of talented students.
If you think your original financial aid decision wasn’t correct, it doesn’t hurt to try and appeal. Just as with applying to college in the first place, you may not end up getting the outcome you want, but if you don’t ask for what you need, you definitely won’t have the opportunity to get it. With a strong, well-researched, professional appeal letter, you’ll put yourself in the best possible position to work out an arrangement that meets your needs.
For more information about the financial aid process and getting the aid you need to make your college dreams real, check out these posts from the CollegeVine blog.
- Understanding College Costs: FAQs About Financial Aid in Practice
- Understanding Your Financial Aid Award Letters
- Can I Appeal My Financial Aid Award?
- How to Evaluate, Compare, and Leverage Financial Aid
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