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How to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

December 12, 2019 :: Admissionado

If you’ve put in the time and done the legwork on your college applications, the final months of your senior year should be an incredibly rewarding time, especially if you’ve already received good news from one or more of your top choice schools.

This should be a time to celebrate, relax a little, and look forward to an exciting future. However, a disappointing financial aid award letter can make this time even more stressful than those fall and winter months when you felt as if you might be buried under the avalanche of applications, schoolwork, extracurriculars, and financial aid applications. If your financial aid award letter isn’t up to par with your needs, you are not powerless in this situation.

It is important to remember that the process of awarding aid is done by individuals who want to help you. Financial Aid Officers and the Office of Financial Aid are there to work with you and advocate for you; however, as they are human, too, it is also possible that a mistake was made. If you have received an aid award that doesn’t adequately reflect the application you submitted, the need you have, or what you merit, you can appeal your financial aid decision. Here’s what you need to know about writing a financial aid appeal letter, and where to start.

Step 1: Have A Good Reason

First, you must absolutely have a good reason to write a financial aid appeal letter. This is not an opportunity to ask for more aid “just because,” or to whine about the cost of college—the appeal process exists for particular cases, and more aid is usually only given if yours is a case in which, without that additional aid, you would not be able to attend the school. If you simply feel as though the tuition is unreasonable or extremely inconvenient, albeit possible, for you in one way or another… well then, my friend, join the club.

To ensure that you do have a good enough reason to appeal, you are going to need to do a little research and inform yourself. Make sure you understand the way that your application was judged. This knowledge will enable you to better understand if something went wrong in the way that your case was reviewed, or if it is simply the unfortunate reality of the cost of college you are facing. In addition, you need to ensure that you understand the appeal process at your school, and what kinds of circumstances might qualify you for a “professional judgment review”(the formal name for the appeals process.) The most common reasons for appealing your aid are detailed below:

Your financial situation has changed.

Probably the most obvious basis for a change to your aid offer, and therefore for appealing your award, is that your financial circumstances have changed since you submitted your initial application for aid. This could include things like a death in the family, divorce, loss of employment, or other circumstances making your financial situation more difficult and decreasing your ability to afford college. This is a fairly straightforward reason for appealing your aid. In this case, you will simply need to explain the change to the Office of Financial Aid while providing adequate documentation of that change and of your updated financial information. Following this, you can usually expect an increase in aid.

Something in your profile was overlooked or misinterpreted.

The financial aid application process is a complex one, and as financial aid officers are often reviewing thousands of students’ applications (depending on the size of the institution,) there is always the possibility that a mistake was made. Your financial circumstances could have been misinterpreted, or some aspect of your aid application could have been overlooked. For example, if your parents have rolled over a 401K, that could appear as a disbursement in your FAFSA file, and thus it could increase your expected family contribution, thereby lowering your aid award. These are the kinds of details, however, that your parents, being more familiar with your financial situation, are probably going to be essential in helping you figure out. In addition, if you feel there’s been a mistake made because you can’t possibly make up the difference between your aid package and the remaining tuition and fees that need to be paid, you can discuss what may have gone wrong with your financial aid officer (more on this later). 

Matching aid awards.

In some rare cases, if you’ve received acceptances and aid offers from multiple schools, and you have a preference for attending the one that happened to give you a lower aid package, you can ask your preferred school to match the aid award that another school has offered you. However, the catch here is that the school’s philosophies surrounding financial aid and their award processes should be fairly similar. You can’t ask a school that endorses a need-blind aid philosophy to match the aid award of a school that follows a need-based aid philosophy. 

Highly desirable applicants.

The final case in which you might be able to increase your aid package is also exceedingly rare and should only be used in special cases. If you were a sought-after student at a particular school (for athletic, artistic, or some other unique talent, for example) and that school highly values your matriculation into their program, you may be able to ask for a more beneficial aid package. This is rare, however, and very few students find themselves in this kind of situation.

Step 2: Make sure you can PROVE the reason for your appeal

If you plan to submit an appeal to increase your financial aid award for one of the above-mentioned reasons, then you should be ready to provide ample evidence to back up your reasoning. By evidence, we mean solid documentation of your reason for appealing your aid award. If you have experienced a significant change in financial circumstances that has increased your need, you’ll need to show evidence of this change to your school’s Office of Financial Aid.

If you believe something has been overlooked or misinterpreted in your application that has resulted in a lower aid award than you deserve, then you should be ready to show that and reinforce the documentation you have already provided of your family’s financial capabilities. Even if you are simply asking your school to match the aid award of a school with a similar approach to financial aid that offered you a higher award, then you’ll need to be ready to show them that award letter and provide justification for why you deserve the same kind of offer from them. Whatever the case, your appeal won’t be successful unless you can back it up with some hard evidence.

Step 3: Reach out to your financial aid officer

If you haven’t already realized this, you will absolutely need to be in touch with the Office of Financial Aid at your school before and throughout the appeals process. If you have been accepted and offered an aid package, which is the only circumstance in which you would be considering an appeal, then whether you know it or not, you have already been assigned a particular financial aid officer who is familiar with your case, reviewed your file and plays a big part in determining the amount of aid you will receive. One of your very first moves you should make when you think you may want to appeal your aid package is to get in touch with this person. They will be able to tell you if an appeal is likely to be successful, and they can help you through the process of putting that appeal together and ensuring you have the proper documentation to back it up. This person is an advocate for you, and while they need to make sure that they are fiscally responsible with regard to distributing the finite amount of aid the school has to offer, they do want to ensure that each and every student assigned to them gets the aid package that is right for them. In short, they are there to help you. Use them as a resource!

Step 4: Writing the appeal letter 

Finally, there comes a time when you need to actually complete the appeal, whether it’s writing a letter or filling out a form, depending on the school’s individual process. As you complete this step, make sure that you are specific and clear about the reason or reasons you believe you need or deserve more aid than the school offered. This should never be an emotional or heart-wringing letter; rather, think of this as a formal business affair. Spell out your logic and reasoning, point to the evidence you are providing along with your appeal, and be concise. Again, your financial aid officer can help you navigate this step of the process (as can your parents, who likely have more experience writing formal business letters than you do.) 

Finally, if you plan to appeal an aid award, time is of the essence. You will need to make a decision about where you are going to matriculate, and schools want these matters settled quickly so they can wrap up the long admissions process and finalize the incoming class. With this in mind, you shouldn’t be waiting and considering whether you should appeal your aid package. If you wait too long, you’ll be stuck with the school’s original offer. Appeal quickly, provide a good reason backed by ample evidence, work with your financial aid officer, and respect the process the school has put in place for aid appeals. 


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