Does the following scenario sound familiar? You and your student have your sights set on your top-choice school—perhaps one that is expensive, even a stretch for what you’ve budgeted and saved for college. You’ve determined the cost of attendance and taken all the possible steps to maximize your financial aid package: submitted the FAFSA, interviewed with financial aid counselors, and applied for grants and scholarships. Nonetheless, when your financial aid award letter finally arrives, the results are...disappointing.
Do not despair! You can, and should, request more aid to meet your financial needs. Here we will cover who is eligible to appeal a financial aid award, how to go about doing so, what to do if your appeal is rejected - and the likelihood of it succeeding. We even have a template that you can use to get started on your appeal letter.
If you have received an offer of financial aid that is insufficient or with which you are dissatisfied, then you have every right to appeal the award. Appeals are most often successful when a significant change affecting the student’s financial situation, such as the death of a parent, serious illness, job or income loss, or divorce, has occurred; however, any student who has received an insufficient offer of financial aid is eligible to appeal. Students negatively affected by scholarship displacement and those who face a loss of funding due to poor academic performance may also submit appeals.
Generally speaking, you can begin to prepare your appeal as soon as your financial aid offer letter arrives. A school may not have a specific deadline by which appeals must be submitted, but this is definitely a case in which the early bird gets the worm. Schools only have so many financial aid dollars to distribute each year; as such, the earliest-received appeals have a greater chance of approval. However, students who experience a significant change in financial circumstances at any time prior to the start of or during the school year should not hesitate to appeal for additional financial aid at the time when the adverse change occurs.
The process by which parents and students may appeal financial aid offers differs for every school. In addition, the types of documentation required for an appeal differ based on the underlying reason(s) for the appeal. Many schools, especially larger colleges and universities, publish information online regarding their appeals processes. Where information is lacking or absent, students or parents should not hesitate to call the financial aid office directly. For your appeal to be successful, it is extremely important to comply with the school’s specific procedures for evaluating appeals, including providing all the necessary documents and information in the formats requested. Depending on the nature of your appeal, here is what you may be asked to provide:
As you prepare the documentation for your appeal, it is important to clearly understand why you are submitting an appeal and how much aid you are additionally requesting. Be specific - calculate your family’s unmet financial need to determine exactly how much more support you require. (You can keep this number to yourself for the time being.) Be sure to submit all the documentation that is required of you, but do not submit more information than is strictly necessary. Too much extra paperwork is not likely to be wanted or appreciated by the financial aid officer reviewing your appeal.
We’ve prepared this handy Financial Aid Appeal Template to help you get started on the appeal process. However, we cannot stress enough that the appeal process for every school is different. Find out what your target school requires and comply with those specifications to the letter. Do not just copy and paste!
After you have researched your target school’s appeal process and gathered the documentation that you need, it is time to initiate the appeal process with the school directly. Some schools specify exactly how appeals should be submitted, perhaps via email or some other electronic form. Unless your school specifically instructs otherwise, we recommend calling the financial aid office to initiate the appeal process. Your goal, to the extent that it is feasible for you, should be to arrange an in-person meeting with a financial aid officer.
To prepare for the meeting, gather all the necessary documentation, including your acceptance letter and financial aid award letter. As you consider your approach to the meeting itself, keep in mind what Edmit’s own Nick Ducoff told the Boston Globe, “I don’t think people realize they can haggle like they’re in a bazaar, but they can.” However, during the actual meeting with the financial aid officer, take care to only “request an appeal” or “obtain a reconsideration” of your financial aid offer. Financial aid administrators are willing to evaluate appeals but are loathe to “negotiate” in the traditional sense of the word.
Below are a few effective tactics that you can utilize during your meeting in effort to successfully obtain the financial assistance that you need:
You are unlikely to receive a decision on your appeal during the first meeting - but before the meeting is concluded, make sure to ask the administrator about the next steps in the process. You’ll want to know exactly how and when to follow up with the financial aid officer.
Of course, the most important steps to take at this stage are those specified by the financial aid officer with whom you met. If you were not granted or were unable to attend an in-person meeting, then follow up in a timely manner after submitting your appeal with an email or phone call. Regardless of whether you attended a meeting, it is important to adhere to the timeline and preferred communication method as specified by the school’s financial aid office. If you are not quite sure about the best way to follow up, just ask!
You may be questioning if appealing your financial aid award is even worth the trouble, or wondering how often financial aid appeals actually get approved. We spoke with college finance expert Shannon Vasconcelos, of U.S. News and World Report, who told us, “Families may be surprised how often colleges say ‘yes’ and send a few more thousand dollars their way as an incentive to enroll.” A New York Times article from 2014 observed that half or more families who submit an appeal are successful in obtaining additional financial assistance. If your financial aid appeal is approved, then you will receive a new offer that includes more or additional forms of financial assistance. The choice is yours whether to accept the revised offer or not.
Find out about how two students successfully appealed their financial aid awards. They were very glad they did!
If your financial aid appeal is rejected, then you face a more difficult set of choices. There is no appealing the appeal decision, but you do still have a few options available to you. Of course, you can always seek to obtain a private student loan, but that should be an option of last resort. You can decide, if you haven’t already, to work part-time job (or two) while you attend school to cover your budget shortfall. And, as much as you may be reticent to do so, you can attend a less expensive college.
Learn more about how much student loan debt is too much, from the experts at Edmit.