You were accepted into your dream school, but you did not get the big financial aid award you were expecting. Now what? Well, do not despair. If your circumstances have changed since you submitted your financial aid application, you could (should) submit a financial aid appeal to the financial aid office at the school in question.
What is a Financial Aid Appeal?
A financial aid appeal is a process available to college applicants to request additional funds or a better financial aid package than the one that was offered.
Most, if not all, colleges will have procedures in place to help you file an appeal. To get started, visit the college's financial aid website or reach out to the college’s Office of Financial Aid.
What Is a Good Reason to Appeal a Financial Aid award?
A good reason to appeal, is if you've had major changes to your family’s income or incurred unusual medical expenses. However, these are not the only reasons.
Financial aid administrators get to use “professional discretion” or “professional judgment” in considering special and unusual circumstances. In other words, if you give them the reason and the proof to offer you more money, they can – provided the college has the funds.
Remember, it’s not enough to say you are unhappy with the award – well, most people are – and expect an instant increase in your award. Before they can show you the money, you have to show them the proof. Here are some good reasons to appeal a financial aid award:
- Loss of income due to layoff or termination.
- Unusually high medical bills due to illness or hospitalization of a family member.
- Unexpected life event – the death of a parent or immediate family member.
- The student becomes estranged from their parents.
- The student/family experiences a natural disaster.
- Correction to income/assets on FAFSA, CSS Profile or other financial aid application.
- A better financial aid award from another college.
How Do I submit a Financial Aid Appeal?
Most colleges have a process for appealing a financial aid award. To ensure you are submitting the right documents, you should check with college’s website or Financial Aid officer on the requirements.
For instance, at Cornell University, you need to submit a special form (called an appeal application form) when making a financial aid appeal. At the University of Michigan, you can request an appointment to talk about how your situation has changed and file an appeal. In some other colleges, you may only need to provide a letter along with supporting documents. Even if colleges only ask for a form, sending a letter with a sincere appeal along with your documents, if allowed, might help you succeed.
5 Tips to Appeal Your Financial Aid:
1. Document Your Special Circumstances
Prepare a letter or email (based on financial aid’s office directions) respectfully requesting additional funds and documenting your changed circumstances. If a parent either lost a job, became ill, got a divorce, or took on the responsibility of supporting an elderly family member, add that to your request. You will also need to include copies of any documentation you have – termination letter, medical bills, etc. Providing supporting documents will help you build a stronger case and make it easier for the financial aid officer to use professional judgment in your favor.
2. Leverage other Offers
Did you know you can use higher financial aid offers from other colleges to bolster your financial aid appeal.
For example, If you received a higher financial aid offer from a college they consider their peer (or competitor for the same students), they might match it. If you are in the top 10-25% or even top 50% of applicants in terms of academics and/or have a special talent you might have more leverage. Many colleges want to boast about the academic prowess of their students in US News. The lower you fall in the applicant pool, the less leverage you might have.
Despite where you fall in the applicant pool, you should express gratitude for the offer of admissions and financial aid package. If they are your top choice, let them know it. However, it is equally important to stress that an increase in their gift aid – scholarships or grants (money you don’t have to pay back) would make it possible to attend.
3. List any new merit awards or academic improvement
Additionally, when writing your appeal, you should mention any new awards you received since you submitted your application. If you have received an academic, leadership, athletic or other award, make sure you let them know. Doing so might make you a much more attractive candidate if you weren’t so already.
Remember, colleges are very interested in your achievement because if you look good, they look good.
4. File your appeal in a timely manner
If possible, don’t wait until it’s close to College Decision Day (May 1) to appeal your financial aid. Colleges will take this to mean that they are part of your back-up plan.
Of course, if your circumstances change close to decision day, then you will have no choice but to submit the appeal at that time. Keep in mind that funds are often limited, and other students will be appealing their financial aid award too.
5. Follow Up
If it's been a week and you haven't received a response from the college, it could be a good idea to contact the financial aid office through a phone call or email. In case your appeal is not approved, inquire if there is an option to submit extra documents to strengthen your appeal. If that's not possible, then you have two options - either find a way to pay for the expenses responsibly or consider attending a more affordable school.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to send the financial aid officer a thank you letter even if you did not win your appeal or get the big increase in grants and scholarships you were expecting.
Taking the time to submit a well thought out financial aid appeal with supporting documents will increase your chances of getting more money.
Keep in mind, if you are lucky enough to win your financial aid appeal that the same amount of money might not be offered every year you are in college. The devil is always in the details.
Ask the Financial Aid Administrator how much of your financial aid package is renewable for your sophomore, junior and senior years. You should also ask about what criteria you have to meet. Read the fine print and good luck on your appeal.