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How to Effectively Appeal Financial Aid Packages

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This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Attending college is an extremely costly endeavor. With four years of tuition, room and board, and a multitude of other miscellaneous fees, the sticker price of most institutions across the United States is intimidating when deciding where to apply.

With this in mind, the combined financial aid and merit-based package offered by colleges becomes an integral factor for many on deciding where to attend. 

Remember that it’s all just a game

The entire college application and financial aid process is a game. I have heard this verbatim from multiple college admissions and financial aid officers when discussing the process as a whole.

Understanding this game and using your strengths to your advantage is vital to avoiding current as well as future financial stress from getting a degree. This is where this piece comes into play.

I will explain how to effectively appeal and negotiate financial aid offers so you can decrease your financial commitment to your four-year institution of choice.

Firstly, it is important to note that this article will not guarantee better financial aid offers, but it is a guide in attempting to do so. During my own process, I was lucky to have received a multitude of exceptional financial aid and merit-based packages from numerous highly-regarded institutions.

However, I must note that many of the schools I applied to were highly-ranked for their financial aid. I would recommend having at least a couple schools that have this in their locker. Despite this, I recommend applying and going where your heart desires, if the financial situation make sense.

Yes, you can appeal both before and during college

While I assume many of you reading this article are currently applying to and looking to attend college, this is also for those currently enrolled. While financial aid offers are four-year offers, they can be adjusted year by year based on certain factors. 

These factors include but are not limited to: 

  • Significant change in your’s/your family’s income status
  • An increase in price of the college/university
  • A decrease in allotted funds from a school’s endowment pool 

Typically, the offer stays similar to the one you were originally offered at the start of your collegiate career, and it is usually adjusted to match this based on an increase in the school’s price. Submitting documentation may be necessary to prove these claims. 

I also recommend applying to around ten or more schools of your choice in order to cast a wider net and ensure the likelihood of an appealing financial aid package. Most schools will give fee waivers if you just ask through a simple email, as will College Board.

During my process, I accumulated a multitude of enticing offers and was able to leverage them against each other through detailed emails to each school’s respective financial aid office.

How I Negotiated Higher Financial Aid Offers

Utilize your strengths and overall situation

The best way to accomplish this is utilizing your strengths and your overall situation to your advantage. It is paramount to be polite in the email and appreciative of the original package in the first place.

Financial aid officers, especially during the time that acceptances are being sent out, are extraordinarily busy and deserve this appreciation. It also helps your case. 

In terms of utilizing your strengths and situation to your advantage, this is what financial aid officers bring to their directors when presenting your appeal. When I talk about strengths, I mean what you can add to the school during your time there.

Focus on explaining why you want to attend the institution in the first place and how your high school career shows that you can positively add to their college community. Focus on presenting your academic, extracurricular, and athletic records and how this will be a benefit to their school.

Explicitly mention what academic programs/majors you are most interested in and your preliminary plans for how you want life during and after college to play out. This help paints a picture for financial aid officers on who you are and your ambitions.

For example, if you want to become an attorney, explain your thought process on why the undergraduate institution will prepare you for law school and a prospective career in law. Whether you have concrete plans, which is a big ask at around 18 years old, it is important to try and sell yourself as well as your academic record. 

If you were an excellent musician at your high school, talk about how you want to continue this in college. If you were the head attorney of your high school mock trial program, talk about how you want to continue this in college. If you are getting recruited for sports or want to walk on, talk about how you want to continue this in college.

Getting in touch with club moderators and coaches before applying is a great idea as it gives you credibility in these claims. Connections are key in these instances. These are all great examples of using your extracurricular and athletic achievements to your advantage.

In addition to presenting your strengths, it is key to explain your financial and family situation to help financial aid officers and college directors better understand why you need an increase in aid.

Remember that many students were accepted to the college, and while the admissions officers see your potential, this will not necessarily be enough to garner more funds. 

Thoroughly explain any current hardships, including but not limited to: 

  • Changes in income
  • Recent unemployment
  • An increase in financial hardship caused by current the economic climate
  • Family medical issues
  • An increase in dependents
  • Recent homelessness

In terms of the financial reasoning, you might need certain documentation such as a W-2, tax forms, or a letter from an employer or former employer. For medical reasoning, you may also need to provide hospital receipts or proof of hospitalization. 

Make sure you also highlight that you want the package to be closer to your EFC (Estimated Family Contribution) if they have not reached this total already. Most schools will not have the endowment to match this, but it is worth mentioning to provide greater context on why you need the extra funding.

This number can be found on the first page of your FAFSA Student Aid Report. Make sure you do not explicitly ask for a dollar amount, however. 

Leverage your other financial aid packages to your advantage 

If you are looking to attend college and have garnered some acceptances, this paragraph is for you. In addition to being appreciative as well as explaining your strengths and family situation, being able to leverage other financial aid offers exceedingly increases your chances.

This will show the respective college that other colleges see your potential and are doing a better job of meeting your financial need. By doing this, you both create urgency and credibility.

I was able to use a few financial aid packages to appeal to my top choices. This ultimately allowed me to go to my school of choice, which was not the best offer when I originally received the packages, but after the appeals, it was.

At the end of the day, college is a huge life decision and there is no underscoring this fact. Finances are a stress-inducing topic, especially when speaking about pursuing higher education.

However, by being persistent and persuasive, you can significantly decrease the financial burden brought upon securing that undergraduate degree of your dreams.

The last thing I will leave you with is:

It never hurts to ask. 

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Author: Robert Meyer

Rob is currently a junior at Gettysburg College, double majoring in Political Science and Economics. He is from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, which is right outside of Philadelphia. When not creating content for Niche, he can be found kicking for the Gettysburg College Football Team, hanging out with friends, or watching his favorite Philadelphia sports teams.