A Quick Guide To The Financial Aid Appeals Process
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
March 12, 2021
You can amend your financial aid package based on your student’s application or a change in your family’s situation. How? Through the appeal process.
A financial aid appeal is a request for additional aid, a more lucrative offer, or a higher grant amount often spurred by a change in family circumstances.
Colleges and universities are inundated with appeals from students whose families have fallen on hard economic times due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many families’ ability to pay for college has changed, and their aid package should change with it.
If you feel that something needs to be altered, start the financial aid appeal process. Below is a simple guide to the world of financial aid appeals.
Should your client appeal their financial aid offer?
In general, two broad categories could warrant an appeal:
- Exceptional merit/multiple offers
- Special or unusual circumstances
- You can appeal for more aid if you received better offers from other schools or if your student has exceptionally high test scores. Most appeal letters, however, fall under the second category, especially in the past year.
Special circumstances include job loss, salary reduction/loss of income, death of a parent, unreimbursed medical expenses, divorce/separation of student’s parents, serious illness, natural disaster, and more.
When would they submit an appeal?
You can submit an appeal at any time. It’s often best to start the process as soon as you experience a change in circumstances. If, for example, you were furloughed in February, start the process as soon as you receive the formal letter or notice.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of a semester or if the school is out of session—the earlier you file, the better.
How do they submit an appeal?
Each university has its own appeals process, making it critical to follow the specific system. Work with your school’s financial aid office to discover whom to contact about the appeal, how to get in touch with them, and the requirements you must meet.
As you navigate this process, keep this one word top of mind—clarity. Conveying your circumstances in a clear, concise, and specific language will only make your case stronger.
Instead of stating simply that you lost your job, be specific about how much income will be lost due to the layoff. Say, for example, your income has decreased by $5,000 since their last tax return, hindering their ability to pay for school.
All of your specific circumstances like income loss, health changes, and more should be detailed in an appeal letter.
Best practices for an appeal letter
Once you understand how the appeal process works at your specific school, you will need to make your case in an appeal letter. It’s important to get this letter right, so here are some best practices to keep in mind as you start writing.
- Have the student submit the appeal. It is important for you to remember that it is the student appealing for additional financial aid, not the parents. Of course, the parents need to provide much of the supporting documentation in many cases, but the best results come when the student is presenting their case.
- Keep it short and sweet. A one-page letter is ideal.
- Be honest and authentic. It’s critical to express your circumstances indirect and persuasive language. You shouldn’t smudge or veil your situation, instead clearly express how your ability to pay for school has changed. Avoid vague language or overarching statements.
- Provide adequate supporting documentation. When it comes to your appeal letter: document, document, document. Your specific circumstances need to be properly documented whether it’s a termination notice, tax documents, test scores, or other merit-based requests. Be sure to attach this documentation to the letter.
- Ensure the writing is clear, concise, and grammatically correct. Now isn’t the time to push the envelope on writing style. Stick to traditional grammar rules and proofread the document so it’s free of errors. The last thing you want to do is misspell the school’s name when you’re appealing for more money.
The price of college isn’t set in stone and neither is the financial aid that you received in the mail. You will likely be overwhelmed by the process, so break it into small, manageable, and actionable steps.
Financial aid is a crucial component of your college plan. By being proactive about your aid package, you can help save thousands of dollars, and may even allow your student to take on one less loan.
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