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Financial Aid Appeal:  How and Why

You’ve just received your Financial Aid Award Letter from your favorite college, and it just isn’t enough.  Besides the thud of your disappointed heart hitting the floor, you hear a small voice in your head, “I’ve heard you can negotiate your college costs!!”

Whoa there!  Take a step back.  That’s not quite true.  Accepting or declining a financial aid award is not like negotiating on a used car!  Prepare for a bit more courteous and considerate approach, and read on.

Why a Financial Aid Appeal?

Appropriate financial aid appeals come in basically 3 forms:

  1. Your financial situation has changed significantly since you filed your FAFSA (like a parent lost a job or there have been large medical bills).
  2. A similar college offered you significantly more than the other. This is when you are comparing the awards of two “like” colleges, for example, one small private college vs. another small private college. Comparing one large state institution against a smaller private university is unlikely to be seriously considered.
  3. When you are already in college and have been denied your financial aid due to poor grades. This is called a Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) appeal. I will not cover that type of appeal here.  Most colleges have a clear policy and process available through their website or your academic advisor for that type of appeal.

How to Appeal

Once you’ve determined that you have a reasonable case, here’s how to move forward.  Usually courtesy and humility are more effective than brashness and pushiness.

  1. Look closely at the awards, and be certain that you are comparing “apples to apples” and that the award comparisons align perfectly. There are many times 2 parts to your award:  the Merit award—often an “academic scholarship” (which comes from the Admissions Office) and the Financial Aid award—likely 1 or 2 types of loans, work study, and possibly a grant or “discount” of some sort (these usually come from your Financial Aid Office)
  2. Consider: Do you have a specific reason for an appeal?  Has your financial situation changed since you completed the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile?  If not, are you simply wanting College A to offer the same (or slightly more) than College B?  These are the questions you’ll be asked.  Also, consider the amount of money that would be a fair adjustment to you, if it were offered.
  3. Your first step then is to visit the college’s Financial Aid page on the website. Search for financial aid appeals. Many colleges will have a specific process to be followed.
  4. Secondly, I suggest you contact your admissions counselor by phone. Start by thanking them for the offer of admission and their generous aid package.  Then, politely and calmly explain that their college (name it) is your first choice, but that College B offered more aid, and you are calling to ask for their advice.    Your admissions counselor may be able to help increase your merit award or find an additional grant or scholarship to increase that part of your award.

Your admissions counselor will not be able to change the Financial Aid award decision, but you are giving them the courtesy of your situation; after all, your admissions counselor is largely responsible for your offer of admission! If they are able to have any influence at that college, I assure you that they will go to bat for you! He/she wants this to be a win-win.  So, you are always smart to start there.

  1. Regarding the Financial Aid award, your admissions counselor will likely refer you to the person in Financial Aid who handles appeals.  Follow their advice and make that call next.  When you reach that person, again, with all politeness and respect, explain again.  Tell them that your admissions counselor referred you to them.  Be prepared to answer all the questions in #2 above, and be prepared to tell them which is their “competing college” if they ask.  If all goes well, you might expect an offer of $500 – 3500 more.

When a Letter or Form is Required

Sometimes, the procedure requires a letter.  If there are specific forms given in the online process, complete those to a “T”.  Be sure that you’ve covered the following details and tips:

Get the name and correct spelling of the person to whom the appeal should be addressed.  Don’t write “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Officer”.

Express your appreciation for the original offer.

State your circumstances for asking for more money to attend.  Give the details as to why you can’t pay.

Remain humble and polite.

After Your Financial Aid Appeal

If you are successful in your appeal, show your appreciation with a letter, and also inform your admissions counselor.

After all this process, you may feel obligated to attend the awarding university, but that is not required.  Even after a successful appeal, you still have a choice to make.

Finally, I recommend this article by Farran Powell of USNews & World Report.  He articulates well the strategies for your appeal.

And know that we at My College Planning Team are always happy to help with your appeals.  Just contact us.

Stephanie Kennedy

Stephanie Kennedy is president of Kennedy Educational Services and co-founder of My College Planning Team. Stephanie holds a Masters in Counseling and College Student Development. A former admissions counselor, she has read hundreds of college applications and assisted thousands of students in their college adjustment and educational path. With her hands-on perspective, she guides students and families in a successful college search that goes far beyond the acceptance letter.

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