A coupe of college students working on financial aid appeal letters giving a thumbs up.

How To Crush That Financial Aid Appeal Letter

The financial aid award letter from your favorite college has arrived, but the package isn’t what you expected. Don’t panic! Maybe it doesn’t reflect your current financial situation or a recent scholastic achievement; there could even have been a miscalculation when filing the FAFSA. What do you do? You CAN write a financial aid appeal letter and possibly up the award amount by thousands.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s crucial to not only write an effective financial aid appeal letter with explicit details, but also to follow up swiftly and with finesse.

Here are my five go-to tips when setting out to appeal a financial aid award package.

1. Figure Out Your Financial Aid Eligibility

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At this point, you’ve tallied the net amounts for your top college picks. You know roughly what you’ll owe and what a college may offer for a financial aid award package. Keep in mind that colleges calculate offers based on financial needs and circumstances; they are not necessarily set in stone. If your family has undergone a financial change, it often means you’re entitled to appeal; however, that is only the case if it wasn’t already factored in your application or FAFSA submission.

If you do plan to write a financial aid appeal letter, colleges generally only reassess for three types of circumstances:

  1. Financial change (income, debt, divorce, catastrophic loss, etc.)
  2. Class rank/scholastic accomplishments
  3. A superior offer from a comparable school

These circumstances must have occurred after you submitted all application-related forms. If any of these apply, then it’s time to write that financial aid appeal letter!

2. Know The Process And The Deadline

Before drafting up your financial aid appeal letter, follow these two steps:

  1. Call the college’s financial aid office to ask about their appeal process and if there is a preferred person that handles appeals. It is crucial to call, as each college is different and while one may want you to follow every step of their process to avoid confusion, another may disregard a financial aid appeal letter if submitted incorrectly.
  2. Set a reminder (or three!) of the last day to send out your commitment deposit to the college: May 1st. Why? It’s essential to insert a cushion of time between sending off your financial aid appeal letter and the beginning of May. You will have all your award offers by April 1st. Send the appeal off as soon as possible to guarantee enough processing time for the college so you won’t lose your chance as you wait for an answer.

3. Gather Evidence

Now, it is time to gather substantial evidence to back up the financial aid appeal letter. For a significant change in income, families may present a few documents. It could be a combination of three recent pay stubs, a notice of employment termination, retirement notification and various other supporting papers. Whatever the circumstance for the appeal, families need to scrape up any and every form of written proof to make their counter-offer air-tight.

4. Write Your Financial Aid Appeal Letter

A mother helping her daughter write her financial aid appeal letter.

Parents and students should collaborate on writing the financial aid appeal letter. But, don’t forget that the colleges’ client is the student not the parent! I always recommend that the financial aid appeal letter come from the studentNOT the parent.

The financial aid appeal letter structure needs to include five parts:

  1. An intro characterizing your intent to appeal.
  2. A concise explanation of the newly developed circumstances.
  3. A clear statement of the additional amount requested; be clear about your commitment to an education.
  4. The evidence for the appeal request, noting any references to enclosed documents included for review.
  5. A closing statement, reiterating your inquiry to appeal, followed by your name and signature. A polite thank you doesn’t hurt, either.

Keep the letter to one page and check for grammatical errors. If you need any ideas on how to outline your letter, there are plenty of online examples for guidance (we can help with this as well).

5. Take The Lead And Follow Up

At the end of your financial aid appeal letter, pinpoint an exact day and time you’ll call the admissions office to follow up. Consider suggesting a face-to-face meeting in your letter as an in-person appearance always makes a bigger statement (if it’s available to you). Then call a few days afterward to confirm.

If you decide to take the in-person route, bring along any documents to seal your claims, such as a copy of the highest offer you received elsewhere. And, when in your meeting (or over the phone), steer clear of the term “negotiate.”

Always be genuine about your enthusiasm for their future role in your higher education career, but don’t shy away from underlining the gap of your parent’s financial state versus their offered amount. Then drive the point home with either the better offer at a different college or your family’s financial change.

Colleges want you to thrive and become part of their community, and admissions officers are no different. They’ll respond positively to a well-constructed appeal, whether they’re able to reformat the offer or not. If you fit the bill, it comes down to how you present your unique situation. 

Ask Westface College Planning For Help

Do you need help constructing your financial aid appeal letter and navigating the financial aid process from start to finish? Westface College Planning can help! Give us a call us at 360-818-7728 or start with our free Tackling the Runaway Costs of College Webinar!

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