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How to write a financial aid appeal letter

While it's not guaranteed to work, you could qualify for additional grants and scholarships.

Your financial aid award letter tells you how much and what type of financial aid you’re eligible to receive from a school after you’ve been accepted. But you don’t have to accept those terms if you think you got an unfair deal. You can appeal your offer by writing a letter to the school’s financial aid office and asking for additional funds.

What is a financial aid appeal letter?

A financial aid appeal letter is a way to present your case for more financial aid from a college. It should explain why you need additional funds, including details about your current financial situation and documents that back up your argument. While it’s not guaranteed to work, a convincing enough letter could get you more grants and scholarships, reducing the amount of student loans you need to take out.

How to write a financial aid appeal letter in 8 steps

While each school has a different procedure for appealing a financial aid award, you generally need to follow these steps:

Step 1: Email the financial aid office.

The first step is to get in touch with the school’s financial aid office to ask what the process is for appealing your financial aid award. Try reaching out by email rather than over the phone — you’re more likely to get a faster response, typically within a few days.

  • Tip: Don’t go into detail about why you want to appeal your award. This might affect your appeal’s chances of approval. Save it for the letter.

Step 2: Calculate out how much more aid you need.

Simply saying you need more aid isn’t a very strong case. Go over your family’s finances to figure out how much more you need to be able to afford the degree. If you think the FAFSA calculations are off — your situation has changed or you made a mistake — you can use the FAFSA forecaster to figure out how much you would receive based on your new circumstances.

Step 3: Formulate your argument.

Why exactly do you think you need more financial aid than you were offered? Write out your answer in a few concise sentences that make a compelling case — this might take a few drafts. The more direct you are, the better.

Step 4: Back up your case with documents.

Strengthen your argument with copies of documents that support your case. This might include financial aid award letters from other schools, bank statements, medical bills or anything else that might support your case for more aid.

Step 5: Write the letter.

Follow the school’s instructions to type a one-page letter making your case for more financial aid — think the same length as your college essay. Write it in a standard business format with your address, the date and the financial aid office’s address at the top of the page. Be sure to address it to a specific person in the school’s financial aid office.

Not sure how to get started? Follow this structure:

  1. Introduce yourself. Briefly state who you are and that you’ve been accepted to the school.
  2. State the purpose. In a sentence or two, explain that you’re writing to appeal the financial aid award.
  3. Present your argument. State the amount of financial aid you received from the school and explain why you think it needs to be adjusted.
  4. Present the facts. Write a paragraph supporting your case with numbers that show you simply can’t afford the current financial aid package they’re offering. Avoid emotional appeals as much as possible.
  5. Wrap it up. Explain why you think you’d be a good fit for the school and thank the addressee for considering your appeal.
  6. Sign it. Use a professional sign-off such as regards, sincerely or thank you for your consideration. Type out your name and sign it in pen if you’re mailing the letter in.

Step 6: Fill out any additional forms.

Some schools might require you to submit a form along with your letter. Go over it with your parents to make sure all of the information you provide is correct.

Step 7: Have someone read it over.

Get a friend, teacher or relative to read over your letter. A second pair of eyes can help catch misspelled words or grammatical errors that could make you sound unprofessional. It also gives you a chance to ensure you’re making a strong case. Consider your proofreader’s suggestions if you think they could strengthen your letter.

Step 8: Send it in.

Follow the school’s instructions to mail in or otherwise submit the financial aid appeal letter. If you don’t hear back from the financial aid office within a few weeks, reach out to make sure they received it.

When should I appeal my financial aid award?

Not everyone can get their financial aid award appealed. You might have the best luck in the following circumstances:

Your financial circumstances have changed.

Life happens. If your family has gone through changes that have impacted your ability to pay for college since filling out the FAFSA, the school might be willing to adjust its award. This might include the death or illness of a family member, loss of income or divorce.

Your cost of attendance is higher than the school calculates.

Are you a caretaker, have a disability or have other circumstances that the school didn’t include in your cost of attendance (COA)? You might be able to adjust your COA and therefore your financial aid award.

You’re offered a better deal.

You can use a more competitive financial aid award letter from a different school to make the case that you deserve more funding. Be clear that the school you’re writing to is your top choice.

You made a mistake on the FAFSA.

You can usually make corrections to the FAFSA after you’ve submitted it. But reaching out to the school to let them know might convince them to adjust your in-school scholarships and grants as well.

When might I want to hold off on an appeal?

A school likely won’t approve an appeal if you’d just like more scholarships and grants than it originally offered but don’t have much of an argument for why you need it. You also might have a hard time getting approved if you need a lot more aid — think $10,000 or more. In these cases, you might want to consider other options for funding your degree — or even going to a different school altogether.

Not sure if it’s a good idea? Look up the school on the CollegeBoard’s College Search tool to find out what the average financial aid package is for first-year students and what factors it considers when coming up with your offer. If your package seems similar to what other students receive, you might want to hold off.

4 tips for writing an appeal letter

Consider these pointers when writing your appeal letter for more financial aid:

  1. Write it yourself. Writing the letter yourself demonstrates assertiveness and leadership skills that schools like to see in their prospective students.
  2. Be gracious. Make sure you show appreciation for your acceptance letter and the aid that’s being offered, even if it’s less than your request.
  3. Keep it short. Employees at financial aid offices are pressed for time to read every student’s life story. If you’re going over a page, there’s a chance they won’t read it to the end, which could hurt your chances of having your award adjusted.
  4. Stay away from emotional appeals. Emotional appeals add bulk and won’t help your case. Stick to the facts.

I didn’t get enough aid. What are my options?

You still have options to pay for school, even if your financial aid award isn’t as generous as you would have liked. You might want to consider these alternatives before turning to federal or private student loans:

  • Outside scholarships and grants. Many private organizations offer scholarships and grants to students beyond the financial aid package. You might have to fill out another application and write a few more essays, but it’ll lower your student debt load.
  • Interest-free student loans. A handful of organizations also offer interest-free loans to students that work like a cross between scholarships and loans. While you have to pay these back, there’s no interest or fees that accrue.
  • Crowdfunding. Raise money from your family and friends using crowdfunding platforms for students like PeduL.

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Bottom line

You don’t need to write off your dream school if your financial aid award isn’t enough. Writing an appeal to the school’s financial aid office could help you qualify for additional funds. Stick to the numbers and keep it short to increase your likelihood of being approved.

You can learn more about how to pay for college by reading our guide to student loans.

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