Every colleges is a bit different when it comes to financial aid appeals. Some are very systematic and formulaic, while others have more room to negotiate. Here are some general rules of thumb, based on Edmit’s experience:
Public institutions tend to have less flexibility. There is public oversight of the institution’s practices so they may be more concerned than a private institution about being consistent across students. Large universities also have fewer resources to dedicate to managing an in-depth appeal process (compared to a small school, where every student’s decision is of great importance to the yield and so one-on-one conversations are easy to come by). If you’re out of state, you’re going to have to work even harder: public schools tend to be less generous with out of state students as they have a higher priority to meet the financial need of in-state students.
Very selective institutions who do not award merit aid have comprehensive and detailed formulas to evaluate your financial need. Most use the CSS Profile and have a lot of detail on your finances already - therefore, it’s fairly unlikely you’ll be able to persuade them that their initial award is mistaken - unless there have been significant changes since you filled out the FAFSA or CSS. Another consideration: their yield is very good, and they have lots of other students waiting for the chance to attend if you cannot.
Selective institutions who do award merit aid are likely to be very focused on yield, and on attracting high achieving students who can help them in their rankings. For these schools, competitive offers from schools that are similar to them can go far.
Smaller private colleges that are less selective are usually tuition-driven - meaning they rely on tuition to fund their operations rather than an endowment. They are also, because of their small size, more dependent on every seat being filled. We’ve found that those schools are most likely to work with you on an appeal, if the initial offer is not viable for your situation.
The bottom line: it never hurts to ask, but you should consider the type of school you’re appealing to as you develop your strategy. Do your homework ahead of time so you can provide the most relevant information as you do your appeal.