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Appealing Your Financial Aid Award Letter

Once you’ve received financial aid award letters from your college(s) of choice, you may find the aid awarded to you does not cover enough of your expenses. While there are options such as private student loans to fund the balance, you might also consider appealing your award letter to request additional aid from the college. This process is most successful if there has been a significant change in your family’s financial situation, such as the death of a parent, serious illness, job or income loss, or divorce. However, any student can file an appeal. 

When Can I Submit My Financial Aid Appeal?

Generally speaking, you can begin to prepare your appeal as soon as your financial aid offer letter arrives. A school may not have a specific deadline by which appeals must be submitted, but they will have a set amount of financial aid to distribute each year.

Students who experience a significant change in financial circumstances at any time should always contact the financial aid office, regardless of when the changes occur throughout the year.

What Will I Need to Appeal My Financial Aid Award?

The financial aid appeal process varies by school, and documentation will depend on your reason for submitting the appeal. Start by reviewing the school’s financial aid page on its website – you will likely find filing deadlines and contact information for the office. If you cannot find information online about filing an appeal, email or call the financial aid office for details.

Once you know what the college requires, be sure to provide thorough documentation in the requested formats. You may be asked to provide:

  • Documentation of a change in financial circumstances, such as death of a family member, serious illness, loss of a job or other income, or divorce or separation;
  • Documentation demonstrating unmet financial need;
  • Documentation of academic progress or achievement, such as letters of recommendation or school transcripts; and/or
  • Documentation of a more attractive financial aid package offered to you by another school.

How Do I Submit a Financial Aid Appeal?

Be sure to find out exactly how the financial aid office prefers to handle appeals and follow their instructions for contacting them or submitting documentation. 

When speaking with a representative or writing a letter or email:

  • Clearly state your goals and the rationale for your appeal; have the necessary supporting documentation available. 
  • Specific numbers and data will help your case, as will relaying plans for covering costs in the future.
  • Take ownership and ask what you can do to increase your opportunities for aid. Can you retake standardized tests? Commit to work study hours? Take part in on-campus programs?
  • Ask the financial aid office to help review the charges outlined in your cost of attendance and make suggestions for reducing costs. Reducing your meal plan or changing room accommodations could reduce your bill.
  • Avoid being confrontational or demanding.

How Do I Follow Up on a Financial Aid Appeal?

Each college has a different process, so be sure to ask for specifics about deadlines, timelines for review, and when/how you should expect to hear back from the college about their decision. It doesn’t hurt to send a “thank you” email and ask about next steps as well.

What is the Likelihood of My Financial Aid Appeal Being Approved?

You may be questioning if appealing your financial aid award is even worth the trouble, or wondering how often financial aid appeals actually get approved. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of university life, and that includes financial aid. On one hand, colleges are eager to get students back to campus and may be more accommodating. On the other hand, the pandemic has greatly impacted families’ financial and personal circumstances, and more aid may be needed than ever before.

In general, the type of college will determine your likelihood of getting more aid. Ivy League and other very selective universities are very unlikely to consider an appeal without significant changes to a student’s financial profile, whereas small private universities generally are more flexible.

What Happens If My Appeal is Approved?

If your financial aid appeal is approved, then you will receive a new offer that includes more or additional forms of financial assistance. The choice is yours whether to accept the revised offer or not.

What Happens if My Financial Aid Appeal is Rejected?

If your financial aid appeal is rejected, you and your family may need to examine options for additional funding such as private student loans. You may also consider working part-time to help offset costs (but remember that your studies come first!). If the amount you can afford to pay and the amount the college requires are still too far apart, you need to have a conversation about whether attending the school is truly feasible. Consider other colleges, or even consider starting with a less expensive two-year college that will allow you to transfer credits. 

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