Step-by-Step Guide to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

November 25, 2021

So finally, your dream comes true as you’re accepted into the college you always wanted to be part of, but boom! You realize the financial aid isn’t sufficient.

Fortunately, many colleges provide you to file an appeal to your financial aid award, where you can ask for a new assessment of your financial situation or offers from other schools. Many variables are counted, so a better offer isn’t assured, but filing an appeal may be worth trying.

Suppose you want to appeal or negotiate your financial aid. In that case, award. In that case, you must make a decision quickly, follow the correct procedures, and give the right information, often in the form of a letter stating your case.

Let’s look at the steps you’ll need to practice to create a professional and effective financial aid appeal letter.

Reasons why you appeal for financial aid

The first and foremost thing you must do is decide whether it’s beneficial for you to file an appeal, as it will take a lot of your time, effort, and energy. Colleges will respond quickly if you have a change in financial situation or better offers from other schools.

If you don’t come under any of the two situations mentioned above, it is unlikely that the college will be willing to negotiate. You need to give a good, and I mean excellent reason for the college to provide you with more aid.

Change in Financial Situation

Colleges will offer additional aid due to varying financial situations. The following circumstances qualify:

  • Investment losses
  • Losing a job
  • Reduction in a pay cut 
  • Divorce or separation
  • Change in out of pocket expenses (healthcare, childcare, family support, or natural disasters)

If any of these circumstances apply, you will need to show supporting documentation. Colleges will let you know which documents they might need after you contact them.

Better offers

Another potent tool to appeal your current offer is with your other acceptances and financial aid letters. Colleges will respond to two types of proposals:

  • A more solid financial aid offer at a school with a comparable ranking
  • Acceptance to a university with a higher ranking

What are the steps to write your financial aid appeal letter?

1. Know what’s the college’s appeal process.

Go through the school’s financial aid page to get official information about appealing your aid. Several schools have a particular online form. For other schools, you have to submit the form in writing.

Know what you need to do and who you’ll need to contact. Just remember, if you follow the correct steps, your request is more likely to be successful!

2. Collect information

If there is any issue with your financial aid award, you’ll need to make corrections of statements in your appeal letter with documented facts. Collect the documents you require so that you can refer to them while you’re writing. 

This includes the FAFSA and CSS Profile (if applicable). You’ll see What else you’ll need on the specifics of your situation but could include proof of significant expenses (like medical bills), documentation of a parent’s job loss, financial statements, legal documents, or competing award letters from other colleges.

You’ll need to submit copies of these documents along with your letter so that you can show why your award should be reconsidered. Some schools may even accept certain documents as scans via email, but you should always check first—sometimes, this is not possible for security reasons.

3. Structure Your Argument

 First of all, remind the college that you want to attend! There’s a reason why this school chose you, and you chose this school; it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. Explain that despite this desire, you won’t likely be able to enroll unless your financial aid is increased.

Then, cover why you need more aid. If the currently expected family contribution would represent an extreme hardship for your family, say so, and explain the situation. If you have a better offer from another similarly-ranked college, ask if this college can adjust your award. If anything about your financial status has changed your family’s ability to pay, include this as well.

Be direct and stick to the facts. Don’t try to compare yourself to what you may have heard about other students and their awards, and be realistic about your family’s financial status. Focus on the numbers: the amount of aid you’ve initially been awarded and the amount you’ll need to make that school a feasible option.

If you have any significant achievements since your application, feel free to mention those as well. Things like becoming valedictorian or winning a state tournament are highly-impressive and increase your desirability as a potential student. 

4. Get Help Reviewing Your Letter

Just as with application essays, someone reliable should review your letter before you submit it. Paying attention to grammar, spelling, and typos helps to show that you take the situation seriously.

 The tone is also fundamental here, so ask your reviewer to consider it. In requesting that your financial aid be reevaluated, you’re asking for a big favor from the college and its financial aid staff, and you don’t want to appear entitled or unreasonable. As always, be polite, mature, and professional, and thank the office of financial assistance financial assistance staff for their time and help.

Since this letter concerns your family and your collective financial situation, have your parents or other interested parties check it for accuracy. If your financial situation is particularly complex, it might make sense to have your family’s financial or legal advisor read over it as well, just to make sure you don’t misrepresent the facts.

5. Send Your Letter to the Right Place

For physical mail, double-check the address you’re sending it to; call the financial aid office to check again if you’re unsure. Use clear handwriting or printed labels. You might choose to use Priority Mail or another service with features like tracking and receipt confirmation for extra reassurance.

As we’ve mentioned, your school may accept some documents via email, but ask them before you do so. Double-check the email address you’re sending them to, of course, and make sure any scanned documents you’re sending are legible.

Be very clear about who you are to file assistance financial with your letter and documents to the correct account for any appeal letter. Include your full name and applicant or student ID number on everything you send in. If your school has special requirements about which identifying information to include, follow those directions strictly. (Be aware that if any of your documents are in languages other than English, you’ll need to have them translated first.)

It’s a good idea to follow up within a week to make sure your information made it to the right place and ask how long you’ll need to wait for a response. Just don’t overdo it; appeals take time, and bugging your financial aid officer excessively for updates will only take away from the time they have to work on your case.

6. Maintain a Backup Plan

A financial aid appeal is simply a request to have your application for financial assistance reconsidered, often in the light of new information; it’s not a guarantee of a favorable outcome. The college may decide not to increase your financial aid or to increase it as much as you would like. You need to be prepared for this possibility, especially with the May 1st decision deadline looming.

You’ll need to have some serious discussions with your family about your options. Maybe you’ll need to attend another college. Or, you or your parents will take out a loan. Only you can weigh all the factors and make a final decision.

Financial Aid Appeal Letter Examples

Now you know the steps to file a financial aid appeal, here are some appeal letter examples.

Appealing based on a change in a financial situation

Dear Dean Rora,

When I learned I was accepted into Redwood University, I was ecstatic—I am a first-generation Filipino student. This school has been one of my top choices for years due to its world-renowned aerospace engineering program. I would love to attend; however, the current aid package makes it financially unfeasible for my family. As such, I’m writing to request a re-evaluation of my financial aid award. 
Since applying, my single mother has lost her job as a garment worker in Los Angeles due to the impact of canceled orders during COVID-19. She did not receive a severance package. While I have tried to make up for the lost income by working two part-time jobs, I cannot cover that $25,000 gap as a full-time student, and I will be unable to work as much once in college. As it is, I currently earn only enough to cover our rent ($800/month), let alone daily expenses like food. I wish I could ask my other relatives for help, but it is just my mother and me in the United States.

Because of this significant change, I was hoping that your office could readjust my financial aid award. I am currently expected to pay $2,000 per semester, which is unfeasible given our situation. I am attaching documentation regarding these changes. 
Thank you in advance for your consideration, and please let me know if you need more info. I truly hope I will attend Redwood and realize my dreams of becoming an aerospace engineer.

Sincerely,
Althea Reyes
This letter is an excellent example because it:

  • Thanks to the college for the chance to attend and reiterates the student’s interest in the school
  • Provides specific numbers about the family’s situation
  • Gives upfront documentation to streamline the process
  • Is polite while conveying a sense of urgency

Appealing based on better offers

Dear Dean Edhouse,

My name is Milo, and I’m a student from Chicago who is planning to study International Relations. I am beyond grateful to have the opportunity to study at Applewood University, especially because of the many opportunities for fieldwork in the U.S. and abroad.

However over the next few weeks, I have to make a difficult decision: Applewood University or Magnolia College. Applewood is my top choice, but Magnolia has offered me more scholarship money. As such, I’m writing to request a re-evaluation of my financial aid award. I understand that your office does not match offers and am not requesting a match. I’d simply like to ask that you consider my other offer when reviewing my award holistically.

To attend Applewood, my family must pay $21,000 per year. For Magnolia, we need to pay $16,000. This is a significant difference for my family, especially since my sister will also be in college at the same time (she is a junior at Englewood University). For your convenience, I am attaching documentation of this offer from Magnolia.

Since applying, I have also placed 3rd in the track and field state championships for the 3200m. After the track season, I ran a half marathon and raised $3,000 for the International Rescue Committee. I know Redwood has a road race team that frequently participates in charity runs, and would love to continue running for social causes in college.

Please let me know if you need any more information, and thank you for your consideration. I hope I will be able to join the Redwood community this fall.

Sincerely,

Milo Grant
This letter is vital for the same reasons as the previous, but here’s what it does differently:

  •  Highlights an understanding of the school’s financial aid policies (“I understand that your office doesn’t match offers”) and requests a holistic review
  •  Updates the dean on significant accomplishments that increase their desirability as a student
  • Emphasizes fit with the school through their unique resources

Conclusion 

College affordability matters a great deal; the best college application in the world won’t be of much use if attending that college is not financially feasible. Thankfully, widespread financial aid and scholarship opportunities exist, making exceptional colleges into reasonable options for a much greater range of talented students.

If you aren’t happy with your financial aid award, it doesn’t hurt to try and appeal. Just as with applying to college in the first place, you may not end up getting the outcome you want, but if you don’t ask for what you need, you definitely won’t have the opportunity to get it. With a strong, well-researched, professional appeal letter, you’ll put yourself in the best possible position to work out an arrangement that meets your needs.

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