A Guide to Writing the Perfect Financial Aid Appeal Letter
You’ve received your college acceptance letters – but your financial aid award wasn’t enough. Maybe that’s because your top-choice school has offered you less aid than other schools, or because your financial circumstances have recently changed. Don’t worry – your aid offer is not necessarily final. You can write a financial aid appeal letter to request a revised financial aid package. Here’s how.
What is a financial aid appeal letter?
A financial aid appeal letter is a formal request asking your school to reconsider its decision on your financial aid. The letter is your chance to explain your special circumstances, financial situation, and anything else that has changed since you submitted your FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Your letter should be honest and concise and should focus on why you need more financial aid.
You’ll submit your financial aid appeal letter alongside any documents that might support your case. If your appeal is approved, the school will generate a new financial aid package and send you their new offer. If your appeal letter is rejected, you’ll have to decide whether or not you can make your original financial aid offer work. If not, it may be time to consider another strategy to afford your degree.
Why would I write a financial aid appeal letter?
There are five common scenarios for why you might want to appeal your original financial aid offer and request more aid:
1) You got admitted, but it’s just not enough. You were thrilled when you received an acceptance letter to your top school but disappointed when you got your financial aid award letter. Now, you can’t afford to attend without more aid.
2) You received a better offer at another school. Your top choice school has offered you less financial aid than another school on your list. You want to see if you can use your other offer as a bargaining chip to negotiate for more aid at your top school.
3) Your FAFSA® didn’t reflect some nuanced financial situation. Maybe your parents are predicted to earn significantly less this year because they’re freelancers and have lost their biggest client. Maybe your family has debt outside the United States or informal debt to other family members. Finances can be complex. Sometimes the FAFSA® doesn’t take those details into consideration, but your top school might.
4) Your financial circumstances have changed. Your family no longer has the same ability to contribute to your college expenses. Common reasons for this include a family member losing their job, a birth or death in the family, separation or divorce that affects household income or expenses, and medical bills. This change might have occurred between when you filed your FAFSA® and when you received your original financial aid offer. Big life changes can also occur in the middle of a school year. In the latter case, you can appeal to have your next semester’s aid raised.
5) You made a mistake (or multiple) on your FAFSA®. The financial aid appeal process is a great way to remedy any errors you may have made on your FAFSA. Be sure to submit an appeal letter to your school’s financial aid office as soon as you realize your mistake. And next year, fill out your FAFSA® right the first time using Going Merry’s FAFSA® Made Easier tool.
Note: If you have multiple reasons for appealing, you’ll need to decide how to strategize what to include vs. exclude. (Avoid an overly long letter — it should be one page, max.)
How to write a financial aid appeal letter
Research your school’s requirements
Most schools accept financial aid appeals, but each institution has different processes and document requirements. Don’t miss out on extra financial aid just because you forgot a deadline or sent your letter by mail when an online submission was required. Before starting the appeal process, check your school’s website for the most up-to-date information.
Call the financial aid office and get a contact
One of the best ways to get immediate help is to call your school’s financial aid office. Tell them you’d like to write an appeal letter and ask them who you should address it to. They’ll be able to provide you with the appropriate person’s name (usually the school’s director of financial aid). When you write your letter, address it to that person rather than using a generic greeting such as “to whom it may concern.” Pro tip: include the recipient’s name at least twice throughout the appeal to give your letter a more personal touch.
Do the math
Before you write your letter, compare your original financial aid package against your school’s current cost of attendance. Then, calculate exactly how much extra financial aid you’ll need to make college affordable for you.
To make that calculation, first talk with your family about whether or not the expected family contribution (EFC) listed on your award letter feels reasonable. How much is your family comfortable contributing? If they can’t contribute as much as you need, can you try to win extra cash through scholarships instead? Are you comfortable taking out student loans to cover part of your college tuition? Think through various scenarios and then determine exactly how much additional financial aid you want to request from your school.
Express your passion
If you’re a high school senior applying for your freshman year of college, begin your letter by acknowledging how thrilled you are to be accepted at the college. These folks read a lot of letters, and it never hurts to underscore your appreciation for their university. If this school is your first choice, express that. Be clear about why you want to go to this school, as well as why you are a student they should want to keep (You’re hardworking, you’re high-achieving, etc.).
If you’re already enrolled and are appealing your financial aid package for another semester or year, focus more on the importance of your continuing attendance. What have you achieved since you’ve been on campus? How have you contributed to the community? Emphasize how additional financial aid will allow you to improve your academic record and complete your degree at the same pace as your peers.
Your letter should clearly state the facts of your family’s financial situation and your financial need. It should explain why you need additional aid, even if the reason is something you find difficult or even embarrassing to talk about. Be candid and honest about your family finances. Don’t hesitate to restate any relevant information from your original application. And if you have extenuating circumstances not captured by the FAFSA® — like medical expenses or impending job changes — discuss them here.
After you’ve argued your case, tell your financial aid administrator just how much more money you require. Clearly state the amount of aid it would take for you to be able to attend their school. If there are other details that might help make your attendance possible — like a work-study job or a scholarship to cover the cost of books and supplies — mention that, too. The financial aid office might not be able to give you every dollar you ask for, but it never hurts to try.
Mention other financial aid offers
If you’ve received a more lucrative financial aid package from another school, be sure to mention that. You can even ask one school to match another school’s offer. Just remember: you’re not trying to play hardball here. Instead, maintain a tone of respect and appreciation whenever you’re negotiating financial aid.
Gather supporting documentation
Your school’s office of financial aid will likely require some documentation to back up the statements you make in your letter. Pay stubs, medical bills, proof of eviction, or job termination paperwork can all help prove financial need. Most college financial aid offices will request documentation after they receive your letter, but sending it all upfront can help speed up the process. If you’re not sure what documents your school requires, either call the financial aid office or look online.
Recognize that the financial aid administrator reading your letter is likely pretty busy, so keep your letter to one page and make sure your writing is clear. Ask a trusted friend or family member to proofread your letter for errors or typos; sending in a well-formatted, grammatically correct letter is an easy way to project respect and show that this process matters to you.
At the end of the letter, express your sincere gratitude for the recipient’s time, consideration, and support. Check the language of your letter and make sure it’s appropriate. The key to a successful financial aid appeal is a balance of gratitude, humility, and persuasiveness.
Make it look professional
If your school requires a printed and mailed copy of your letter, sign your name to the bottom before you send it. You can also use a template in your text-editing software of choice to create a letterhead and make your letter look professional. If you’re using Google Docs, explore their template gallery. And if you’re submitting a digital copy of your appeal, add your digital signature in a PDF to give your letter a personal touch.
Sample financial aid appeal letter
Here’s a sample letter to get your creative juices flowing. The below was written by a student whose family recently lost their primary source of income. Use this as a template and add your own details to customize it for your needs.
Dear Mr. Smith,
Thank you so much for taking the time to review my financial aid application to The University of America. I couldn’t be more thrilled by the prospect of continuing my education at such a fantastic school. It is, without a doubt, my first choice.
While I am grateful for the detailed and generous financial aid package you provided, I’m writing to appeal my financial aid decision. After I submitted my original application, my family’s financial situation changed. Unfortunately, my mother, who is the primary earner in our family, lost her job. As a result, my family is no longer able to contribute to my college education at the amount originally established as our EFC. Over the past two months, my mother has earnestly sought new employment but hasn’t yet found any options. We’re hopeful that she will find steady work soon, but her unemployment has placed a significant financial strain on our family. I’ve attached supporting documentation, including the notice of termination from my mother’s previous employer.
In spite of these unfortunate circumstances, pursuing higher education continues to be a priority for my family and me. I plan to study computer science at the University of America. Throughout high school, I maintained a 3.5 GPA and recently received an award for my contribution to my school’s robotics team. I am confident that I will make an excellent addition to the student body at The University of America.
Due to my increased financial need, I would like to appeal your decision and request an additional $8,500 of aid to put toward my college tuition. I am already planning to take on federal student loans. This additional financial aid of $8,500 would increase my ability to focus on my education without taking on more debt.
In any case, I appreciate your time and thoughtful consideration, Mr. Smith. It would be an honor to join the next class of students at The University of America, and this increased financial aid would make my attendance possible.
Financial aid appeal letter template
You can get your own financial aid appeal letter template here, which you can customize to your specific financial situation. You can also find a number of templates online. Remember that these are just templates; you’ll have to update them to include the details of your own needs and special circumstances before you send them in.
How do I submit the financial aid appeal letter?
Check the college’s website for more information on how to appeal the award package, as they may have a specific procedure they’d like you to follow.
If no process is indicated, contact the college’s financial aid office. Many colleges will have a specific individual assigned to people with last names starting with certain letters. Email that person instead of the generic financial aid office email.
Note that most colleges will ask you for documentation to confirm any claims you make in your letter. Attaching the documentation from the beginning can speed up the process and improve your chances of a successful appeal because it shows you are proactive and truthful. If you choose not to attach documentation from the start, be sure to at least have this documentation ready.
When should I submit the financial aid appeal letter?
Submit the appeal as soon as possible to give the college ample time to review your request and provide you with a decision. Make sure you consider when your deposit/decision deadline is–and send in your appeal letter at least two weeks before this date.
If your deadline has already passed (and you’ve made your deposit), it’s still possible to appeal on the basis of changed financial circumstances, but of course, you will have less leverage.
How long will it take for me to receive an appeal decision?
The timing will depend on the college, their review process, and how close you are to the deposit deadline. But generally, it should take one to four weeks. If you’re worried about the timing, you can contact the college’s financial aid office to confirm how long the process should take. However, note that the financial aid office is likely pretty busy, so try to give them two weeks from when you submitted your appeal before you check in.
What if they still don’t give me enough financial aid money?
If your financial aid appeal doesn’t result in sufficient additional aid, it might be time to consider some other options — like applying for scholarships or attending a more affordable school. Offers won through financial aid appeals can vary greatly, usually between $1,000 and $10,000 in extra funding. If you’re looking for more than that, though, a financial aid appeal likely won’t be enough. You may have to explore some of the below options to cover your college costs.
External scholarships might be able to fill in some of your financial gaps. You can apply for scholarships based on your location, community service, extracurriculars, merit, and other factors. Make sure you keep an eye on scholarship deadlines and follow all instructions to apply. Scholarships are considered to be free money because you just need to qualify, apply, and wait patiently to see if you win. This is not money you need to pay back.
Or, if you just want help understanding your college budget, check out our free College Cost Insights & Appeal product.
Today, a majority of college students in the U.S. take on student loans. If your financial aid package isn’t enough to cover your college tuition, it may be time to research loan options. For most students, federal student loans are the better bet. Provided by the U.S. Department of Education, federal loans generally carry lower, fixed interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private loans do. When you complete the FAFSA®, you’ll automatically receive information about which federal loans are available to you.
After you’ve exhausted your federal loan options, explore private student loans. Private loans have higher financial caps, so you can usually borrow as much as you need to pay your college tuition. Before you sign on the dotted line, though, be sure to research different private student loans and lenders. Take the time to compare interest rates, repayment options, and fees. Earnest, a trusted partner of Going Merry, never charges origination fees or prepayment fees and allows qualifying borrowers to skip one payment per year. You can explore their loans online and find one that suits your needs.
Want more financial aid resources?
Check out these blog posts for more information on funding your education:
- How to understand your financial aid award letter
- How to apply for scholarships
- How student loans work
- The ultimate financial aid guide
If you’re ready to apply for scholarships and increase your funds for college, get started with Going Merry. Sign up for your free profile. We’ll match you with scholarships based on your profile, and you can easily apply with the click of a button.