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Successfully Appeal Financial Aid

Congratulations - you’ve been accepted and received your Financial Award package! Maybe you’ve even decided which school you want to attend. Even if you are happy with the award you’ve received and feel it’s affordable, did you know you can appeal for a better package?

Well, you can! Notice I use the word appeal and not negotiate. That is an important detail. Don’t call up your admissions counselor and tell them you’d like to negotiate for a better offer. You want to check the website first, for appeal instructions, and if you can’t find anything, call the school and ask for their preferred process for submitting your appeal.

Does it really make a difference?

You may be wondering - what difference does it make if I appeal for a few more thousand dollars when it already costs so much to go to college? What if you get $3,000 extra per year, renewable for all four years? Now we’re talking $12,000. What if you took out $12,000 in student loans? Well, at an interest rate of 5% and a payback period of 10 years, you would end up paying back over $17,000 for that $12,000 in loans. It may take you an hour or two to put together an appeal request. That’s about $8,500 per hour for your labor. Not a bad deal if you ask me.

Formulate An Appeal Strategy

Not sure if you have a basis for appeal? Here are some examples of what to look for:

Need-based appeal

  • You had a drop in income in the last few years. Maybe you changed jobs or careers, got laid off, got fired, took time off to care for a family member or couldn’t work due to an illness.

  • There was an unusual circumstance that led you to have higher income for the base year used in your financial aid application. Perhaps you took a 401k distribution because you were laid off and wanted some money to pay the bills while you looked for a new job. Or maybe you simply didn’t realize that taking a 401k distribution would be taxable income.

  • You had higher than normal healthcare expenses or other large unexpected expenses.

  • You had a pandemic related set-back. Perhaps one of the bread winners in the home passed away or a family run business was severely impacted.

  • The make up of your family changed due to divorce or separation.

Other basis for appeal

  • You were accepted at a similar school that offered you a better financial package.

  • You earned an award or were recognized for an achievement after you submitted your application.

  • You significantly improved your grades or performance in the recent past.

Be Specific in How Much More Aid You Need

Schools want to know what amount you are looking for so that they have a starting point for considering your request. When deciding on an amount, keep in mind:

  • The amount should be related to something specific like an actual financial need or the amount you’ve been offered by a competing school, not just an arbitrary number.

  • It’s ok to ask for a little bit more in expectation that the school may come back at a lower number.

Make Your Appeal in Writing

Each school has their own process for handling appeals. Check the website for instructions first. If you can’t find what you need, call the school and ask how to proceed. For financial needs, you will likely work with the Financial Aid office, and for other considerations, your best bet is to start with your admissions counselor. They may have a form for you to fill out to go with a written letter describing your need and making your request.

Be Thorough in Providing Information to Back Up Your Needs

Whether the appeal is based on finances, merit, or a competing school offer, provide some type of documentation to substantiate your appeal. This could be a tax return, pay stub, expense invoice, official medical diagnosis, competing school’s Financial Award Letter, etc.

You also want to help the reviewer understand the complete picture, so add enough details to tell the story of why you should receive more aid.

I recently helped a student successfully appeal for more money based on his mother’s career change and substantial drop in income. The student sent the business registration for his mom’s new business and her estimated income for the current year.

Act Professional

This is a business decision for the school, not an emotional one. Use a formal writing style and format. Present your request in a straightforward, succinct way, trusting on the merits of the case to do the work for you; you’re not begging.

Let The Student Lead

The student should make the request. In the case of an appeal based on the parents’ finances, it’s ok for the parents to present the case to the school in their own words, but have the student write an introductory letter making the basic request, leaving it to the parents to give the background information and supporting documentation.

Use Your Negotiation Skills

Again, this is not a negotiation, but using negotiation skills is ok - just don’t be sleazy. You want the school to feel that you are excited and ready to choose them once the finances can be worked out. Thank them for their offer, explain your case, show them you’ll make a great addition to their school by your professionalism, and leave them with the feeling that they are better off by working with you to ensure that you become one of their students.

Ask For a Reasonable Package

Asking for more money with no basis for doing so is not likely to get you very far. Demonstrating a need of $4,000/year but asking for $20,000/year is going to make you look greedy. If the ask is too big to justify, the school isn’t going to have much of a reason to take it seriously. Imagine that you ask for additional aid of $20,000/year with nothing to substantiate that large of a request. Even if the school would have been otherwise ready to give you an extra $4,000/year, they may feel there is little point in doing so for a student who clearly wants a much higher award. Better to ask for $8,000/year and have the school come back with $4,000 than to ask for $20,000 and have the school come back with nothing.

The secondary appeal

If your appeal does succeed, you now have a better offer from one school. Can you use that to approach another school for a better offer? You may want to do so if you are really hoping to go to one of the other schools from your list.

Hope for the best but plan for the worst

Not all schools entertain appeals, and there is always a chance your appeal will not succeed. Knowing what you will do if that happens will likely take some of the anxiety out of the appeals process.

Here are some sample Appeal Policies:

Stetson University

Wake Forest University


Notre Dame

The Bottom Line

If you approach a college on their terms, using their preferred method of appeal, with a well documented professional request, and demonstrate your excitement about attending their school, you stand a much better chance of successfully appealing your college financial award offer.

Want help with your appeal strategy? Get in touch:

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