Here's how to request more financial aid, including how to put together a sample financial aid appeal letter.
"Can I request more financial aid?" Many parents and students want to know how to negotiate financial aid packages, so let's get right to it!
Does the following scenario sound familiar? You and your student have a top-choice school—and often that school is expensive, even a stretch for what you've budgeted and saved for college. You've determined the cost of attendance, then taken all the steps to maximize your financial aid package: You've filled out the FAFSA, applied for financial aid, interviewed with financial aid counselors, and applied for grants and scholarships.
But despite these efforts, let’s say your student got accepted into several of their top university or college choices—and then got financial aid awards that were less than what was expected.
If your top-choice school is too expensive for your financial situation, don’t necessarily give up at this point. Your dream college may still be in reach: You may be able to appeal your financial aid award letter and get a better offer.
Speaking to U.S. News and World Report, college finance expert Shannon Vasconcelos says, “families may be surprised how often colleges say ‘yes’ and send a few more thousand dollars their way as an incentive to enroll.” A 2014 article from the New York Times says that half or more of families who appeal get more money. And 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.”
(Pro-tip, however: When it comes to appealing for more financial aid, many college admissions experts recommend against using the terms “negotiate”, “haggle”, or “bargain” during the process, as those terms have a negative connotation among financial aid counselors. “Appeal” or “reconsideration” may be more effective in a better financial aid award.)
So if you’re willing to elongate the financial aid process, or if even just a little more money would change your desired college into a good financial fit, negotiating your financial aid award is a good strategy.
While we here at Edmit would love to give you a one-size-fits-all strategy for appealing your financial aid package, each school will be different, with requests handled on a case-by-case basis. If the cost of attendance is too expensive for you as a parent (or student), be sure to get in touch with the financial aid office and request the specific procedures for how to appeal a financial aid award.
While specifics will differ, of course, there are good rules of thumb any parent and student can follow to get more money for college. Here are some general tips for starting the financial aid appeals process, which you can adapt for the particular policies of the universities and colleges you appeal to.
To appeal a financial aid award, first get in touch with the financial aid office at the college you want to attend. Acknowledge you’ve been accepted, that you’ve received your financial aid package, and that you’re interested in enrolling, but your financial situation is top of mind. State that you are interested in exploring further options, and ask if a financial aid appeal is available to students. If so, inquire what the specific steps of the process are. Follow the financial aid appeal rules to the letter: You don’t want to miss an opportunity for more aid because of a technicality.
Experts are split on the best method to appeal a financial aid package: FastWeb says to request the appeal via phone or letter; NerdWallet recommends using email. Here at Edmit, we think the more direct your discussion, the better—you’ll have fewer opportunities for miscommunication, and with a topic as sensitive as money and financial aid, the clearer the communication, the more you’ll be set up for success. Edmit's team can help craft a well-articulated message with all of the elements we’ve seen work well, and as a follow-up we recommend you pick up the phone, or if possible see if you can arrange a face-to-face meeting to make the financial aid appeal request.
The timeline for appealing a financial aid package really depends on the college or university: Some colleges will allow students to appeal a financial aid award at the time of the offer letter; others may even let students start the process mid-semester (typically because of a change in a family’s financial situation). Get in touch with the financial aid office to make sure you find out any appeal deadlines well in advance. Once you know the deadlines, respect them as absolute. In general, the earlier you appeal, the more likely there will be funding available.
When putting documentation together for your financial aid appeal letter, be prepared to include anything the university requests. For federal student aid or need-based financial aid, this could be information outside the FAFSA, particularly documentation that shows a change in your family contribution and/or financial situation (such as medical bills, paperwork outlining a recent layoff from work, legal documents finalizing a divorce, etc.). For merit-based aid, this may be letters of recommendation, documentation of academic progress (such as a high school transcript with cumulative GPA), or certificates of achievement, etc.
If you are requesting a financial aid appeal based on a competing offer from another college or university, be prepared to submit any acceptance letter and financial aid award documentation from that school. Your top-choice college may be able to match that amount, but it will first depend on verifying your competing offer.
You may also want to look beyond tuition: Ask your college financial aid administrator if your school will be amenable to giving more money for your work-study program, more scholarships, or money for a travel or clothing stipend (if you’re a student coming from a far distance and/or a different climate). Alternatively, could you request extra money for textbooks? Find out where money may be allocated more easily, and tailor your request accordingly.
You may also feel intimidated just getting started with the appeals process. Edmit has a template here:
(But remember, a sample financial aid appeal letter may differ from what your college requires. Be sure to adapt for your specific circumstances—don’t cut and paste!)
Additionally, it’s just as important to know what you shouldn’t include in your financial aid appeal—and again, this may differ by school. For example, if you’re applying for need-based financial aid, you most likely won’t need to include discretionary or household spending receipts (such as mortgage statements or car bills). Speak to your financial aid office to find out exactly what’s needed, and stick to that in your financial aid appeal—don’t assume extra documentation will be appreciated. (In fact, it may not be.) When in doubt, ask!
Again, follow instructions here to the letter: When you turn in all documents and required materials for your financial aid appeal, ask the financial aid counselor when you should expect to get a determination. If you get a ballpark date for a reply, inquire about how best to follow up and the preferred method: Some financial aid administrators would appreciate a follow up by email; others may prefer a quick call. In many cases, however, you should hear by the projected date. Give the office of financial aid time to review your appeal without interruption; repeated inquiries may be disruptive (and may even hurt your case).
If your financial aid appeal is rejected, it’s time to do some soul searching. What is this particular college worth to you? Are you comfortable with taking on more student loan debt to be able to attend? Could you juggle attending your top-choice college with a part-time job (or two) to earn more money to offset expenses? If not, could a more affordable college on your list meet your higher education and career goals? Post-appeal, narrow your list to those universities and colleges that are a good financial fit, and focus on the benefits of getting your degree at a school that fits your budget.
Have the money talk with your family and financial aid counselors, and take the long view: When it comes to financial fit, there are many great colleges that offer an affordable quality education.