Appealing a Financial Aid Offer – Can it be Done? | 04.26.11

Posted in FAFSA, Stafford Loan By Evan Jacobs

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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33 Responses to “Appealing a Financial Aid Offer – Can it be Done?”

  1. Mr James Harrison says on August 12, 2010 at 1:05 am:

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  2. Marie says on May 27, 2010 at 11:08 am:

    OK appealing not negotiating…got it!

    Reply To This Comment
  3. Robin says on May 27, 2010 at 12:24 am:

    I instinctively did not use the word 'negotiate' when I met with the financial aid officer at my daughter's college. I did ask if we could do some creative problem solving, which resulted in an application fee reduction.
    When is it too late to appeal? What if you have accepted the package offered? What about next year?

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  4. ryan says on May 26, 2010 at 11:09 pm:

    no negotiate

    Reply To This Comment
  5. Robin says on May 26, 2010 at 10:14 pm:

    I instinctively did not use the word 'negotiate' when I met with the financial aid officer at my daughter's college, but I didn't know about appeals. I asked them if we could do some 'creative problem solving'. Well, that got me nowhere (they did waive a fee).
    When is it too late?
    What if the package was accepted for this year, can I still ask for an appeal? What about next year?

    Reply To This Comment
  6. Brittany says on May 25, 2010 at 9:09 pm:

    This is very helpful information. Thank you.

    Reply To This Comment
  7. Crystal says on May 20, 2010 at 9:51 am:

    I was a work-study in a financial aid office at a local community college. There were many people who appealed financial aid decisions because of job loss or moving in with other family members. The school I worked for had a committee the appeals went to when it came to academic appeals, but financial appeals went to the director of financial aid. It was really interesing to see the back side of the process. Her desk was full the last semester I attended. The processing time can take almost 2 months if you have everything requested the first time. Always give yourself pleanty of time to get the appeal in so you are not stressed when school starts. Also, don't call your financial aid office upset because you were late turning something in. It's a HUGE petpeeve of theirs.

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  8. Sammy says on May 19, 2010 at 4:34 pm:

    I shall cross negotiate off my vocab list.

    Reply To This Comment
  9. danielle says on May 18, 2010 at 12:03 am:

    i ever knew u could do this. totally going to keep it in mind

    Reply To This Comment
  10. l.t says on May 16, 2010 at 6:46 pm:

    very helpful

    Reply To This Comment
  11. crystal says on May 12, 2010 at 11:43 pm:

    this was really good info glad i read it now i know what to do when i get my fafsa i still havent got it

    Reply To This Comment
  12. Patricia says on May 12, 2010 at 1:02 am:

    I really dont want to get a student loan.

    Reply To This Comment
  13. ashleigh says on May 11, 2010 at 5:04 pm:

    i still havent got my fafsa information back but
    im glad i read this for when i do

    Reply To This Comment
  14. loris west says on May 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm:

    I have my niece staying with me because my mother had a heart attack and could no longer take care of her. I am not sure where her mother is, she was not leagally in the US when she became pregnant. She gave my mom my niece since she was 3. She is now 17. My mom is 82. She has not been claim by anyone on taxes. She was only to stay with me for a few months now its a year. I have my own children in collage and can not help her.. She will need help. Please advise.

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  15. Deb says on May 6, 2010 at 3:07 pm:

    Very helpful! I know that FASFA goes by your latest income tax return filed. However, I became unemployed Dec 18, 2009 and have been going to school full time. So now we only have one income and I am sure the financial aid will not be enough for the fall.

    Reply To This Comment
  16. Scott says on May 4, 2010 at 10:33 am:

    It helps to establish a good business relationship with the schools' respective financial aid and admission departments, as the two often work hand-in-hand. Give them an opportunity to get to know you, to put a face and personality to the appeal.

    Reply To This Comment
  17. Kyla says on May 3, 2010 at 1:02 am:

    I'm going to work on an appeals letter this week. I wasn't aware this could be done.

    Reply To This Comment
  18. SNemo says on May 1, 2010 at 3:21 am:

    How interesting. I've always thought that whatever you're offered is what you're offered! I didn't know there was a way to "negotiate." This is probably something they like to keep on the DL.

    Reply To This Comment
  19. Tokio Hotel Lover says on April 30, 2010 at 8:21 pm:

    This is crazy!
    I just asked on Yahoo Answers how to do an appeal when you're not getting enough money.
    I finally got the right answer.
    Thank you so much!

    Reply To This Comment
  20. Darrell says on April 30, 2010 at 6:47 pm:

    I didn't know that this was possible.

    Reply To This Comment
  21. ashley says on April 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm:

    interesting article. i never knew that one could appeal the financial aid offer made by the school.

    Reply To This Comment
  22. maira72 says on April 30, 2010 at 12:34 am:

    thats wonderful thanks for the article it is really important

    Reply To This Comment
  23. maira72 says on April 30, 2010 at 12:35 am:

    thats wonderful thanks for the article it is really important to me.

    Reply To This Comment
  24. Betty says on April 29, 2010 at 10:50 pm:

    Wow! this I did not know.

    Reply To This Comment
  25. Dayna says on April 29, 2010 at 4:37 pm:

    Great article. I didn't realize you could negotiate the amount. Gives me something to think about.

    Reply To This Comment

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