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Student reads financial aid award letterWhen you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you should receive written notification from your school of choice explaining how much aid you qualify for and what type. A financial aid appeal letter is a written request asking your school to increase the size of your aid package when it’s not enough to cover your costs of attendance. Writing a letter to appeal your financial aid package doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your school will make more aid available to you. But it could help you secure more funding to help pay for higher education costs. Here’s how to approach this challenge.

What Is a Financial Aid Appeal Letter?

To understand how financial aid appeals work, it first helps to understand how financial aid packages are calculated.

The FAFSA is used to determine what type of financial aid package students qualify for to pay for college. The amount of aid you’re eligible to receive depends on:

  • Your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)
  • Your year in school
  • Enrollment status
  • Cost of attendance at your school of choice

The EFC is an index number schools use to determine how much financial aid a student is able to receive. It’s based on the parents’ income and assets as well as household size. The school’s financial aid office looks at EFC, along with the other factors mentioned above, to decide how much aid students are eligible to receive.

When that aid package is less than you expected or less than you require to pay for school, you could write a financial aid appeal letter. This is a formal letter asking your school to reconsider the amount of financial aid you’ve been offered to help cover college costs.

When to Appeal a Financial Aid Award

Since a financial aid appeal is a request for more aid, there’s no guarantee that your school will agree to give you the additional money you need to pay for college. But there are certain circumstances in which the school may be willing to.

For example, you may be able to successfully appeal your financial aid award if your family’s financial situation has changed significantly since you initially completed the FAFSA. If your household income has dropped because of a job loss or layoff, that could be grounds for getting more in financial aid. Or if one of your parents was unable to work for an extended period of time because of an illness or injury, you could also make a case for increasing your aid award.

You might also appeal a financial aid award if you think you make an error on your FAFSA or it needs to be updated. Incorrectly reported assets or income, for instance, could skew the numbers on your EFC and lead your school to assume that you don’t need as much financial aid to cover education costs.

If you applied to multiple schools and received financial aid awards from each of them, you might use an appeal letter as a negotiation tool. For example, say you want to go to School A but School B is offering more financial aid. You could ask School A to match School B’s award, but this may only work if you’re an attractive candidate for enrollment based on your academic record.

How to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

College applicant writes letter of appeal

If you want to appeal your financial aid package, there are a few things to know. First, it’s important to write your appeal letter sooner rather than later. At some schools, financial aid awards are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis so waiting to write your appeal letter could result in there being no funds left over to distribute. Next, you need to make sure you’re addressing your letter to the proper person or office. In most cases, this will be your school’s financial aid office. But if you’re in doubt about who to address the letter to, you can contact the school to find out where it should be sent.

Once you know where to send your appeal letter, you can work on drafting it. There are several ways in which a college financial aid appeal letter differs from a college essay, so keep these tips in mind:

  • Be polite and address the letter properly
  • Clearly state your reasons for requesting more financial aid
  • Explain your situation in detail and why you need more funding
  • Specify how much additional financial aid you’re requesting
  • Include mention of aid offers received from other schools if any
  • Close the letter with a thank you

Your appeal letter doesn’t need to be lengthy; in fact, short and sweet may be better. The most important thing is to make sure you’re outlining your reasons for requesting more aid clearly.

For example, if you’re asking for additional financial aid because of a change in income you’d want to explain how your family’s situation has changed. Some schools may be willing to grant more financial aid in need-based situations. And if you’re asking your school to reconsider based on your academic merits alone, be sure you can back that up with proof of your outstanding achievements.

What to Do If Your Financial Aid Appeal Is Denied

If your school turns down your request for more financial aid, you may be able to submit a secondary appeal to your school’s financial aid office. But this may only be an option if your school allows it and you may have to present additional supporting arguments beyond what you provided in your first appeal letter for it to be successful.

When your school is firm about not increasing your aid package, there are some other things you can try. First, you can look for scholarships and grants you can apply for that might help with paying education costs. The important thing is to keep an eye on deadlines since many scholarships and grants require you to get your application in by a certain date to be considered.

You could also look into the possibility of paying for school out of pocket, either from savings or by getting a part-time job. Or if you applied to multiple schools, you may consider going to your second or even third choice school if they’re offering more financial aid.

Student loans, including federal loans and private loans, are one final option. While taking out student loans to pay for school may not be ideal, it could be necessary if you aren’t able to get a bigger aid package from your school.

Start with federal loans first, since they typically offer the most favorable interest rates, protections and loan repayment terms. Then, compare interest rates and terms for private student loans carefully. Keep in mind that if you don’t have a lengthy credit history, you may need a cosigner to get approved for private loans.  A free, easy-to-use student loan calculator can tell you how much you should aim to borrow.

The Bottom Line

College student reads financial aid letterAppealing a financial aid award by completing a FAFSA form could help you secure additional funding for school. But winning an appeal can depend largely on the quality of the letter you write and your school’s policies for increasing aid awards. When writing an appeal letter, it helps to also keep in mind other ways to pay for college in case your school is unwilling or unable to offer more money. Of course, Step One in the whole process is doing the best possible job with your initial application for aid.

Tips for College Planning

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about different ways to save and pay for college if you’re a parent. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with financial advisors in your local area. It just takes answering a few simple questions online to get your personalized advisor recommendations. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Starting a college savings plan early can help avoid a last-minute scramble to pay for education expenses. If you’re a parent, opening a 529 college savings plan or a Coverdell Education Savings Account are two worth considering. Both allow you to save money for college on a tax-advantaged basis, though they differ in terms of how much you can contribute annually and when withdrawals must be made.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/fizkes, ©iStock.com/Chinnapong, ©iStock.com/fizkes

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She's worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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