For most families, the act of opening the financial aid offer letter is a harrowing one. In just a few short sentences they will see how much a college or university is willing to offer in the way of student loans and scholarships. But what happens when that figure is too low?
Believe it or not, a student aid package that offered less than expected does not necessarily mean the end of the road. In some cases, a borrower can appeal to the school for more money. So how can this be done?
When to Appeal
For starters, strike the word “negotiate” from your vocabulary. If you call a financial aid office and tell them you want to negotiate your student loan package, it will be a very short phone call. You are not negotiating. You are “appealing.” There is a difference. The first step is to call the financial aid office and inquire about the process of submitting an appeal. Most likely, you will be asked to write a letter explaining, in detail, why you feel the aid package should be reconsidered.
Your appeal letter will explain, in brief, the grounds on which you are appealing the financial aid offer. You should decide early on whether this an appeal for need or for merit, or for both. If it is an appeal for need, you must demonstrate to the school that your federal aid package simply isn’t enough for you to afford attending the school. More than likely, a successful appeal based on need will cover a recent change in your financial situation, such as a series of expensive medical bills or a parent losing his or her job. You will need evidence to back up your claim, including copies of bills and pay stubs.
You may also appeal on the grounds of merit. An exceptional student may be eligible for various scholarships or grants. Look into the criteria for these awards. The best evidence to appeal on these grounds is a stronger scholarship offer from a similar school.
How to Appeal
So, now that you know when you can appeal, another critical aspect is how. Writing your appeal letter can (in some cases) make or break your appeal. It’s important to remember that whoever reads your letter is a real person, and you should write for them, respectfully. So here are some tips to help you craft an excellent appeal letter.
- Address it to the right person- Starting a letter “To whom it may concern” may be practical (as you might not always know who’s reading your letter), however, when possible, find a name to address it to. Typically, A financial aid officer will sign a student’s award letter, so this would be the name to use. If you can’t find a name here, check the school’s website. Adding a personal greeting might seem small, but personal touches go a long way.
- Get your facts straight- Before asking for more aid, it’s important to understand why you received the amount you did. Familiarize yourself with the school’s financial aid policy so that you do not seem uninformed, or worse, accusatory. For example, federal award standards are often different from an individual school’s. Before accusing the office of awarding an incorrect amount of money, make sure your calculations are based on the same information.
- Don’t be rude- This falls in line with what I said in tip one, but it’s important nonetheless. So let’s jump back to high school English class for a second and talk about tone. The tone in which you write your letter is very important, as it conveys the message you are trying to send. Do not write as if the school owes you something- because they don’t. Instead, respectfully ask that your case be reviewed based on reasons x,y, and z. Having someone else read over the letter before you send it can also really help if you are unsure of how it comes across to others. And remember, you are not negotiating- be polite!
If you keep these tips in mind while drafting your letter, then hopefully your appeal process will go off without a hitch. Just remember, a school cannot grant appeals in every case, and there is a limit to how much an institution can help. If after going through the process you still come up short, you should consider taking out a private student loan.
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