How to write a financial aid appeal letter

06/03/15

Did you get a financial aid award letter that did not meet your expectations? Perhaps your financial circumstances have changed. You may have had a bad semester in school and are at risk of losing your financial aid. In these situations, you should learn how to write a financial aid appeal letter.

How to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter?

To obtain financial aid, many individuals may need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application allows students to learn about any college financial aid available to you. FAFSA is maintained by the U.S. Department of Education. It is a streamlined process. Students submit information. Then, they receive a financial aid award letter from their school’s financial aid office, in many cases. This letter outlines the available funding options for students. It may not include all options, such as public loans, as noted by StudentAid.gov. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify.

Each school has a different process. This includes what they offer and when they provide an award letter. For those with questions, a financial aid officer may help.

Students may be able to use that information to make a college decision. If they think it is not accurate, you may need to create a financial aid appeal letter. This letter allows you to request additional compensation for the student loans you need.

Often, it is the school’s financial aid office that determines if you should receive more or less financial aid. It makes these decisions based on many factors. It is rare for significant changes to occur.

Why Should I Write an Appeal Letter?

If you filled out the FAFSA and now have changes, you may wish to reach out to your financial aid office to learn more about the appeals process. Most of the time, it takes special circumstances to warrant offering an appeal. Even if you go through the appeals process, you may not have any guarantee of receiving additional compensation.

The amount of aid given is often limited, as noted by Federal Student Loan. The organization uses various information like financial need and family contributions. Merit aid may be another factor to consider. All of this factors into a financial aid package.

There are two key reasons why you may want to go through the appeal process. One factor is that your financial circumstances have changed. If things changed since you filed your FAFSA, it may play a role in the outcome of your case. It could include extenuating circumstances related to your family’s income. For example, if coronavirus left your family with job loss, their income from last year may no longer be accurate for this year. Another example may be significant medical bills.

Schools may help you find need based aid in these cases. It is important to back up all of your claims. Be sure to provide proof of your losses, for example. Another reason you may want to request an appeal occurs when one school offered less aid to you than another school. Sometimes schools may work with you to match or beat another school’s offer. Remember that there is no harm in requesting a better offer from a school. Some may be more willing than others to offer this. The key is to take the time to write an appeal to find out.

What Is the Financial Aid Appeal Process?

The special circumstances review for a FAFSA package is sometimes called a professional judgment review. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the financial aid administrator has the ability to make changes and to adjust the data components of a student’s application. They may also adjust the cost of attendance in some cases. This includes only when special circumstances warrant the appeal. There are many components to this process.

Special circumstances may include:

  • Family is unable to meet the required contribution.
  • Special needs individuals or elderly grandparents make dependent care more expensive.
  • Last year’s income was affected significantly in some way. It does not represent this year’s income.
  • A family member is seriously ill.
  • Income varies because of job changes.
  • A financial disaster or natural disaster occurred.

There could be other factors that impact a student’s ability to pay. If changes are necessary from the data on the FAFSA form, it may be worth considering an appeal.

StudentAid.gov reports there are also unusual circumstances that may warrant an appeal. This may include things that go above and beyond. Here are some examples.

  • The student is estranged from his or her family.
  • The student is unable to locate parents for some reason.
  • There are legal matters, such as those related to abuse, between the parent and the student.
  • The parents are divorced, or custodial ties are cut.

If these situations apply, consider contacting the school’s financial aid office for help with the appeal. That should be the first step you take. They could tell you exactly what information they need. They may also provide information about the process to you.

As noted, you may also request a secondary offer because another school offered more to you. It could impact availability for private student loans, grants, or scholarships.

When to Write Your Financial Aid Appeal Letter

Do this as soon as possible. The more time the financial aid office has to help you, the better. Every situation is different. Some students want to wait until they receive offers from more than one school. Other students applied to just one school and act sooner.

It is best to reach out as soon as possible. Waiting until the last minute when the school year begins may leave no funding available to help you. Many students complete the FAFSA while they are a senior in high school. That should give many students an ample amount of time to connect with the financial aid office to learn more.

What to Include in Your Financial Aid Appeal Letter

The financial aid appeal letter you write does not have to be complex. Aim to keep it short and simple. You do not want to overwhelm the person reading it. As noted, your first step is to contact the financial aid office and inform them of your need. You may be able to do this over the phone. Some schools provide the admissions counselor or financial aid office email to students. You may be able to use this, too.

Often, your goal should be to show them, in your words, that you have a need for additional financial support. It is important to reduce the amount of emotion from your letter. They may not respond well to begging for funds. They also may not respond well to terms like “negotiating.” Your goal may be to encourage them to respond to you, but you want to do so in a way that encourages them to take a closer look.

One way is to simply outline what their needs are and why. Base your information on the change in circumstances. List out all of the situations that created these problems for you. Be specific. Avoid including a long story of what happened or changed. Simply list out the facts of what occurred.

How to Write a Successful Financial Aid Appeal Letter

There are a few tips that may help you to write a financial aid letter of appeal. Remember, there is no guarantee that the school makes adjustments to this information. 

Always use good grammar. Schools want quality students. Your letter should look and sound professional. It may be a good idea to have someone proofread it. Writing mistakes could cost you in the long term.

Keep your tone upbeat and positive. Avoid situations where you make people feel bad for you. Instead, use facts and write in a humble manner. You do not want to dissuade someone from providing you with help because of your tone.

Keep it to the point. Another important step is to ensure your letter is not overly long. You want to communicate the circumstances very clearly. Be sure to focus on the details, but keep it an easy read. Try to include information in chronological order if you are describing multiple events.

Do not include statements that may work against you. For example, you may want to leave out that you are “hoping to get a job” or that you just started a new job. Always be honest, but void wording that may not be conducive to providing you with support.

Provide insight into what is happening and why, but also what it means for you. For example, if someone is ill, provide details about what recovery looks like. Someone may be ill and recovering, but it may only take a few weeks.

If someone is advocating for you, be sure to provide their contact information. You may want to include their full name and title as well. This way, the person assigned to your appeal may be able to easily contact that person for more information.

5 Parts of Your Appeal Letter

Write any type of letter with the goal of completing these five components:

Introduction: Keep it short with your name. Include any details about your contact with the financial aid office. Then, make a clear statement that circumstances have changed, and you are hoping to find additional financial support. State why. Be pleasant and polite. Keep this to one paragraph.

Explanation: The next part should provide more information. Use this second paragraph to explain what happened and perhaps why. Include facts and figures here. Most often, financial aid officers are looking for clear information they can use. Include a specific dollar amount request here.

The Declaration of Commitment: Note that you are committed to attending the school. You want to ensure that you make it clear your goal is to attend in the third paragraph.

The Presentation: In this paragraph, list any evidence or photos you are sending to prove your claim. Be sure to outline what you are including and why.

The Closing: Finally, request that someone contact you with more information. Repeat your final appeal for support here.

When Should I Submit the Financial Aid Appeal Letter?

Do so right away. Some schools may have limits on how much they are able to provide. Others have very strict schedules they need to stick to during this process. Writing a financial aid appeal sooner may help ensure someone has a chance to help you before these situations occur. There is no guarantee of a successful financial aid appeal letter at any time, though.

How Long Will It Take for Me to Receive an Appeal Decision?

Your financial aid award letter often takes a few weeks to several months to receive. You may want to wait that long to receive information about the appeal. It may be possible to turn to the financial aid office to gather more information. They may be able to tell you about any financial aid offer changes that apply to your situation. They may be able to offer guidance on timelines, too. Most importantly, you want to have this information before the school year gets underway when possible.

What to Do if Your Appeal Is Unsuccessful?

Sometimes the appeal request is not successful. You may be able to ask why or your letter may tell you. If this happens, you may need to consider the college cost and whether attending that school is right for you. You may also be able to choose a work-study program. Your counselors may be able to help you find any additional available scholarships or grants. You may also find help through a private loan. Your school’s financial aid office may offer more insight to you on other options. Reach out to them for support and insight.

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