Getting denied financial aid can be a terrifying experience. College is an expensive endeavor, and any changes to a financial aid award can mean major changes to your ability to afford an education.
Luckily, when a financial aid crisis arises, there is always a backup plan: the financial aid appeal letter.
The financial aid appeal letter is your way of asking the financial aid office to reconsider their decision about your financial aid. Nothing is guaranteed--the financial aid office does not have to review your award simply because you wrote a letter. However, submitting an appeal can help them understand your situation.
There are many reasons why you might need to write a financial aid appeal letter. Here are a couple examples:
- A change in family income: Let's say one of your parents lost their job. Now, instead of having a household income of $60,000/year, you have a household income of $30,000. You don't have to wait until the next financial aid application to request that your current financial aid reflect this new change in income. You can write an appeal letter during the semester to request a re-evaluation of your financial aid.
- Bad grades: So, you didn't have a very good semester, and your financial aid has drastically changed due to your GPA falling below a certain threshold. Why did you perform poorly? Was there a death in the family? Did you have other circumstances that prevented you from performing better in your classes? An appeal letter is the best way to state your case.
There are dozens of other scenarios that could result in changed or denied financial aid. Regardless of what scenario you are experiencing, you'll want to write the best financial aid appeal letter possible. Here are some tips to help you do this.
Clearly Explain Your Position
Your financial aid appeal letter should get straight to the point. If there has been a change in income status, state that as clearly and simply as possible.
However, if the reason for your appeal is something more complex (i.e., you failed to earn a certain GPA), then try to be as honest as possible about your situation and why you feel the financial aid office should revisit their decision.
Take Responsibility (If It Was Your Fault)
Speaking of grades, if the reason for your financial aid change was indeed your fault (i.e., you didn't earn the grades that you were supposed to), then you should be honest about that in your letter. Take responsibility first, and then state why you deserve a second chance.
Even if something tragic occurred (e.g., death in the family), it is important to state that you understood what was expected of you and that you apologize for not meeting that expectation. Then go on to elaborate on the external influences.
Support Your Case With Evidence
While you don't necessarily have to submit documentation with your appeal letter (that's your personal preference), you can start to build your case in the letter itself. For example, if a family member lost his/her job, then mention the company name and date of employment termination in the appeal letter. This provides more detail for the financial aid office.
Also, mention in your letter that you are willing to provide whatever documentation is necessary to support your case. You may not know what will be needed at the time, so it's important to mention that you will work to provide the proof that they need to make a decision.
In the end, your financial aid office should be willing to work with you. Just be honest, humble, and clear in your financial aid appeal letter about what went wrong and why you'd like the financial aid office to give it a second look.
Have more questions about writing a financial aid appeal letter? Check out our helpful information video on The Financial Aid Appeal Letter.
SALT® is a free, nonprofit-backed educational program that helps every student who wants a college degree to get it in a financially responsible way. SALT's neutral advice, practical information, and interactive lessons help students gain money knowledge for college and beyond.
This post was originally authored by SALT contributing writer Diane Melville. © 2015 American Student Assistance.
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Top 8 Benefits of Financial Education
If you can’t afford your dream college because it didn’t award you enough financial aid, don’t just give up in defeat. You still have time to appeal for an increase in grants or scholarships.
“It is important for families to know that this option exists, that there is a process in place where they can appeal, and a financial aid officer has authority to make changes” to their award, says Megan McClean, managing director of policy and federal relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
While colleges are not required to approve all (or any) appeals, financial aid counselors and families who have made successful appeals say that following these seven steps will maximize your chances of getting more aid.
1. Calculate what you can afford. Don’t just make a panicky phone call asking for “more.” Instead, before you contact the college, take the time to analyze each financial aid offer you’ve received and your student’s net cost for each school. The net cost is the total cost of attendance (tuition, fees, room, board, books, travel, and miscellaneous costs like laundry) after grants and scholarships are subtracted. Then do a family budget to see exactly how much your family can contribute. Be realistic about what you—and the college —can contribute, advises Gail Holt, dean of financial aid at Amherst College. “Show the college that this is a partnership that you want to be part of, but need just a bit more assistance.”
2. Research the school’s aid policies. Check the college’s website to see its financial aid policies so you’ll know what to—and not to—ask for. Some schools, such as Amherst, don’t award merit aid, so there’s no point asking them for a merit grant. Check out statistics on what percentage of need the school typically meets (most don’t meet 100%) and its students’ average grades and test scores on Collegedata.com. Many schools, such as Muhlenberg College practice what’s known as “preferential packaging.” That means they meet more of the financial need of the most attractive students, and less need for students who don’t raise the school’s profile.
3. Collect your evidence. There are two basic reasons colleges might agree to raise their aid awards: because you have less money for college than it appears from your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA), or because a competing college has made a more attractive offer. You can try either or both arguments with any college, but “documentation is extremely important,” says McClean. If you’re asking a college to match another offer, it’s likely to want to see the competing offer, adds Sally Rubenstone, senior adviser to CollegeConfidential.com.
College officials frequently approve more aid to students who provide bills or other backup to show their FAFSA overestimates their ability to pay. For example, the family may face unusually high medical costs or a parent may have recently lost a job. Don’t be ashamed to document your reasons. “Potentially embarrassing situations are more commonplace than you may suspect. Seasoned financial aid officers are like doctors… they’ve seen it all, and nothing will surprise them,” says Rubenstone. “If Dad has a compulsive gambling problem or if Mom blew a wad on rehab, be sure to say so.”
4. Time it right. Send in your appeal before you mail your commitment deposit to a school (the national deposit deadline is May 1), advises Erin Dymowski, a mother of five who blogs at SisterhoodoftheSensibleMoms.com. Private colleges, especially, “want you to choose them [and] they get a little ansty” if you haven’t sent in the deposit by early April, she adds. The Dymowskis held back their deposit through much of April last year as they appealed (successfully) for additional aid from their top-choice college.
5. Write a personalized letter of appeal. Address your letter to the financial aid director at the student’s first-choice college and ask for a “professional judgment” review (that’s the term in the federal law for such appeals), advises Deborah Fox, a private college counselor in San Diego. Besides explaining and documenting the reasons supporting the appeal, Fox urges families to “communicate to the college that it is the student’s first-choice school and how much they really want to make this work.”
6. Make a follow-up appointment. In your letter, ask for an appointment with a financial aid officer so you can discuss the appeal in person. Or if that’s not possible, ask to do it over the phone, suggests Al Hoffman, a private financial aid consultant in New London, Conn. Hoffman says a single follow-up meeting drives home your commitment to the school without being annoying.
7. Ask about “second chance” aid. Hoffman often urges his clients to ask whether there is anything the student can do in the next few weeks or months to qualify for merit awards. Would good grades in the final high school semester qualify the student for a grant? Or, if more freshman-year aid is out of the question, are there any scholarships the student can shoot for in sophomore year?