Three Tips For Optimizing Your Appeal For More Merit Aid

When that financial aid award letter arrives, many families feel a mix of excitement and dread. Sure, your student got into their dream school – but can you really swing those costs? Before resigning yourself to a decade of debt, there’s one important avenue to explore: the merit aid appeal. 

Appealing for more merit scholarships isn’t just a last-ditch effort after the bills start piling up. It should be part of your strategic game plan from the very start of the college admission process. With some savvy moves, those appeals can be a total game-changer for making that dream school affordable.

Want to maximize your chances of earning more merit money? Follow these three insider tips:

Tip #1: Get That Appeal Started Early

Your merit aid appeal doesn’t begin when award letters hit your mailbox. It kickstarts way earlier when you’re just building your college list. Sure, you’ll apply to those reaches and safety schools. But you’ve also got to strategically throw a few “merit scholarship mills” into the mix.

What are merit mills?

These are the colleges extremely likely to offer your student the biggest merit awards based on their stats and accomplishments – whether or not your student actually wants to attend. These can be key to enhancing your overall college financial aid package. In fact, getting enticing offers from these schools will be crucial bargaining chips when it comes time to appeal to the places you have your heart set on.

One of the most powerful arguments? 

Being able to show a competitor a seriously superior offer.

Tip #2: Build a Multidimensional Case

Of course, shiny new SAT/ACT test scores or a GPA boost can strengthen your financial aid appeal. But laser-focusing on just one aspect like grades is a missed opportunity. The most compelling appeals to the financial aid office make a well-rounded argument using multiple data points and circumstances.

For instance, any extenuating financial or personal situations that made saving for college difficult need to be front and center. Perhaps there were recent job losses, medical bills, or other major costs eating away at your college fund. Don’t hold back on explaining how your family’s unique situation impacts your need for more aid.

Tip #3: Make Your Appeal Awesomely Persuasive

What you say in your financial aid appeal letter matters… but how you say it may be even more crucial. You’re not just documenting facts – you’re making an engaging case designed to convince an admission officer to take a chance on your student.

Investing time and effort into crafting a truly compelling appeal can pay off big time. That could mean getting expert input to fine-tune your appeals strategy and polish your writing. At the very least, have some objective third parties review your appeal before hitting “send.”

Need help making your appeal shine? That’s where pros like My College Planning Team come in. We start with a free college planning session to evaluate your situation and outline a plan. From there, we can provide extra hands-on assistance to strengthen your appeals and ensure you put your best foot forward.

Our process involves three experts: a client manager reviews your circumstances, the appeals team head edits your letter, and finally a national appeals pro gives it a final polish. Even if you choose the DIY route, at minimum, have some fresh eyes look over your financial aid appeal letter before submitting to ensure your appeal for more financial aid is compelling.

The bottom line: Don’t just resign yourself to that sticker price after the first aid offer. A skillfully crafted merit aid appeal could be your golden ticket to the college of your dreams without a lifetime of debt.

Updated: March 22, 2024

Edited By: Katherine Williams 

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