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Should You Appeal Your College Financial Aid Award?

You have received financial aid award letters from your colleges, but the award from your first-choice college is less than you had hoped. What can you do?

Should you appeal for additional assistance? Maybe your award does not reflect your current financial situation, or a recent scholastic achievement, or perhaps you have a more generous award from a competing college.

If you find yourself in this situation, you will want to draft an effective financial aid appeal letter and send it to your college as soon as you can.

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

1. Figure Out Your Financial Aid Eligibility

At this point, you have calculated the net amounts for your top college picks. You know roughly what you will 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 you may  qualify for an appeal.

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

If any of the above has occurred for you or your family, then it’s time to write a 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 or email the college’s financial aid office to ask about their appeal process and if there is a form or preferred process to request an appeal. It is crucial to check, 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. 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. The last day to commit to your college of choice is May 1st, so all appeals and responses should be received well before that deadline.

3. Collect your Data

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

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 will 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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