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Need More Money? Appeal Your Financial Aid Offer

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.

Each spring, the joy of receiving college acceptance letters are followed closely by the darker shadow of cold, hard facts: The cost of attendance to that dream school.

There is no risk to your admission status for attempting to negotiate your financial aid offer.

If you are a parent, or a student, staring at the financial breakdown, you might be wondering how to make your budget stretch to cover the costs. A lifetime of deep debt is never an appealing picture.

The great news is that it certainly never hurts to ask for more additional aid, and there is no risk to your admission status for attempting to negotiate your financial aid offer.

However, there is a bigger picture at work behind the scenes of the aid you were offered, and it’s important to know where you fit into that grand scheme to make it work in your favor.

How to Appeal Your Financial Aid Offer

Why is the price tag suddenly bigger?

Unfortunately, tuition does not equal the cost of attendance. The details are in the marketing.

Many colleges and universities advertise their tuition pricing on a very base level, like the base model of a car with no sunroof or heated seats, when they list their tuition on their “Tuition and Aid” page of their website.

Many colleges and universities advertise their tuition pricing on a very base level, like the base model of a car.

This often equates to: 12 credit hours per semester (the lowest level of credits to be considered a full-time student), the lowest pricing level of housing in the least expensive dormitory and meal plan, and no mention of the cost of books or living expenses.

There are even instances of families not realizing that the advertised price was for one semester, rather than the full year. This is not a trick on the part of the colleges, it is just something to be aware of when you research college pricing. 

What this boils down to is simple advice: Pay close attention to the fine print in the first place.

If you are an underclassmen family building a college list, make sure the “tuition” column of your spreadsheet contains accurate pricing for the same set of criteria across the board: same number of credit hours, whether student fees are included, and comparable types of lodging.

What should your appeal look like?

When it comes to financial aid appeal letters, it’s best to take that term literally and send an official letter.

Send your appeal as a formal letter, not an email.

Emails can get derailed to the wrong people within university communication systems, and also leave wiggle room for informal dialogue, when we want to stay professional with our request. Keep everything more formal and direct with a physical letter addressed to the financial aid counselor for your area.

It can be mailed or delivered in person. But before you start writing, call the financial aid office to see if they have a specific appeal process you need to follow.  

When should you appeal?

When appealing merit scholarships, timing is essential.

Send your letter immediately after your receive your aid offer or close to May 1 (National Decision Day).

It’s always recommended to reach out to the financial aid office as soon as you have received your aid offer letter, but you can also follow up with them as you approach National Decision Day on May 1 when the school is looking closely at their enrollment numbers.  

The best instance to appeal for more financial aid is when a special circumstance has occurred that was not reflected in your financial statements two years prior. This could be an adult in the household losing or changing a job, a divorce, or multiple students in college at the same time.

While there is no “deadline” for appealing for more aid, it is recommended to send an appeal as soon as your financial change has occurred, and make sure you have something in writing to support this change.

Where can funds come from?

Your first move is to understand where the funds would come from and how they could potentially take shape. If you have a solid grasp on the types of funds available for negotiation, you can determine which angle is best for your individual situation, or, in rare cases, gain extra funding from multiple areas.  

Merit Scholarships

Merit scholarships are based on your GPA and standardized test scores, and are typically not need-based. This means they will not take into account your household income when awarding merit scholarships.

For merit scholarships, you can make a competitive appeal, using the angle that another school has made you a more competitive offer and asking if they can match that award. Remember, it never hurts to ask!

For this type of appeal, it’s important to make sure the colleges you are comparing are similar. It will not be effective to write a letter to a large public state university and mention the award from a small, private school. The funds are not comparable.

In the case of merit scholarships, you are more likely to receive an increase in funds from private colleges, as they have access to more avenues of funding than more rigid public universities, although it is not impossible. 

Grants and Work-Study

Grants and work-study aid amounts are need-based, so the offer that was extended to you is based on the information you provided in the FAFSA, CSS Profile, or school-specific family financial sheet you provided to the school.

The college has evaluated the amount they anticipate you to be able to contribute (referred to as your Expected Family Contribution) and made you an offer on this information.

The good news for you is that the FAFSA asks for your data from two years ago (taxes from 2019 for the 2021-2022 academic year).

It is very likely that finances may have changed in your household in the meantime, which will help your appeal. 

How do you appeal?

In a physical letter, your request for additional aid should include three key components.

It should begin with outlining the reason for your appeal. It is important to address the amount of aid that has already been offered, and state a formal request for a reconsideration of these funds. Be up front and direct in the beginning, to make the reason for your letter clear. 

Support your appeal with documentation. Proof helps prove your case.

A successful appeal letter will also include an explanation of the circumstances behind the request, so this is the space to explain any financial changes that have impacted your ability to pay what they have previously calculated.

Do your research and have a firm understanding of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Make sure you have run the numbers and have an amount to list here. If you leave the amount up to them, they may come back with the bare minimum counter offer. If you clearly state that you will need a certain amount of aid to be able to attend their school, they are more likely to match the amount you need. If there is no special circumstance, this is the space to mention that scholarship from a competing institution, and request that they consider matching the award.

Make sure to mention the existing GPA and test scores, to demonstrate the difference in their scholarship pricing tiers.    

Lastly, do not neglect to support your appeal with documentation. Include updated tax forms, any letter that supports a job change, substantial medical bills, or competing financial aid offers.

An appeal request without documentation is just a claim. Show proof and you will have better success at meeting the aid amount you need to attend your dream school. 

Final Thoughts on Asking for More Aid

Colleges are accustomed to students taking out substantial amounts of student loans to be able to cover the costs, so above all, you should be firm and polite in your justification for more aid.

The good news is that colleges always have enrollment numbers to meet, and may be able to be flexible with their funds to attract the right talent (like you!) to their campus. 

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Author: Michaela Schieffer

Michaela Schieffer is a former admissions counselor and now independent college counselor, guiding students through their college applications and essays through MoonPrep.com. Moon Prep's specialty lies in the Ivy League, direct medical programs (BS/MD), and highly competitive universities.