Financial Aid

3 Tips for Financial Aid Appeals

A financial aid appeal doesn't have to be a daunting process. Equip yourself with the know-how to get it done.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

April 18, 2024

3 Tips for Financial Aid Appeals
Learn the steps you can take to appeal a financial aid package.
By now, you’ve made your final college decision, but you may still have questions about how to pay that tuition bill once it’s time. Fortunately, there are options for students and families who may not be able to afford the education that they once thought possible. Financial aid administrators are able to change their initial financial aid offer through an appeals or professional judgment process. Though these appeals are typically reserved for extreme cases, students can sometimes even negotiate their scholarship offers. The Better FAFSA rollout has met its fair share of challenges. While the new form and aid assessment parameters are meant to allow for more students to qualify for aid, the delayed processing and error issues should prompt students and their families to scrutinize their award letter – or financial aid package – a little more closely this year. The Department of Education has announced as recently as the end of March that miscalculations were caught for hundreds of thousands of students. While the Department is working to fix these errors, it’s understandable that students will be skeptical of their aid packages when they do arrive. Financial aid offices at colleges and universities are expecting more calls and emails than ever this year. If you have a question about your aid package, or simply want confirmation that your aid aligns correctly with your financial need, contact all the colleges that you’re interested in. If you believe that you qualify for more aid than you received, you can begin an appeals process. Check out the information below on how to appeal your financial aid package.

When to Appeal College Financial Aid

Most people may be underwhelmed by their financial aid package and wish to start a financial aid appeal. But an appeal for a financial aid award will not be granted unless there are circumstances to prove you are deserving.

A Change in Financial Circumstances

Families may undergo a change in financial circumstances during the school year, like a job loss or death in the family. Given that the FAFSA only asks about the prior prior year, there may be family changes that aren’t considered when your financial aid package is developed.

You Get a Better Financial Aid Package at Another School

This scenario doesn't necessitate a financial aid appeal; however, it does offer you an opportunity to negotiate. If you feel you deserve more or were given more scholarship money from a similar institution, you can always use that as leverage to make a case for more scholarship dollars. Share the financial aid offer with your first choice and ask if they can come up with something similar. Let them know that a comparable offer will make it more feasible for you to choose them. However, treat this particular request with care and tact. Don’t use the term “negotiate;” simply ask financial aid officers if anything can be done to further compensate your merit achievements.

Tips for Appealing Your Financial Aid

Before you jump headfirst into the appeals process, be sure it’s warranted and that you’re prepared.

1. Assess your circumstances.

If your family has fallen under financial hardships, the school does not expect you to pay with your existing financial aid package. These special circumstances include, but aren’t limited to, job loss, unexpected medical bills or a parent’s death. Additionally, though the FAFSA attempts to provide a complete picture of your financial obligations, it doesn’t take into account conditions like disabled siblings or parents that require medical or occupational therapy, which also fall under the realm of a possible appeal to your financial aid package.

2. Contact your college financial aid office.

Whether you’ve just made your final college decision or you’re about to pack up for the dorms, it’s never too late to appeal your financial aid decision. You can even request an appeal in the middle of the school year. Contact the financial aid office via phone call or letter; do not email. This is a personal plea for an appeal so you need to make it as personable as possible. If you write a financial aid appeal letter, detail the circumstances and provide evidence to go along with your claims. However, if you call into the office, it may be best to set up an appointment either over the phone or in-person to discuss the change in finances at length.

3. Prepare financial documents.

When you have conversations with financial aid officers about the change in financial circumstances, provide documentation, like unemployment benefits or medical bills. You’re making a case for a new financial aid package, and you need to prove that you need it.

Bonus Tip: Be willing to compromise.

Finally, financial aid officers are helpful, knowledgeable staff at universities who work hard to ensure that paying for school is as feasible as possible for all students. You’ll get a lot further in your appeals if you see the financial aid officer as a partner and not an adversary. If you are open and appreciative of their help, financial aid administrators are more likely to do everything possible to make paying for school easier for you and your family.

File the FAFSA to Make a Financial Aid Appeal

If you find yourself needing to appeal your award package, you should do so sooner rather than later. Many colleges offer financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you haven’t even completed the FAFSA yet, don’t worry. You still have time. Try to complete it as soon as possible. You will receive your FAFSA Submission Summary within 1-3 days, and the Department of Education will then send your Student Aid Index (SAI) to the schools you’re considering. Within a few weeks, you should receive your financial aid award letter from the colleges and universities you’re interested in. If the numbers don’t add up, that’s when you would begin the financial aid appeal.

Find Scholarships to Close the Financial Aid Gap

Once you’ve received your financial aid award letter, you may notice that there is a gap between what you can afford to pay and what your college costs. Even with a financial aid appeal, you may find that there is still that gap. This is why it’s paramount for students to continue the scholarship search past the senior year of high school. There are thousands of scholarship opportunities for college students, so continue to apply to 1 – 2 scholarships per week. Make sure that your Fastweb profile is updated frequently so that you can find scholarships that you qualify for. Paying for college is possible through a variety of resources. Make sure you’re maximizing your efforts by filing the FAFSA, talking with financial aid administrators, and continuing your scholarship search throughout your higher education experience.

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