If you didn’t receive as much financial aid from your college as you’d hoped for, you may want to send in a financial aid appeal letter — a document outlining any new financial challenges that were not reflected in your original Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). When writing your appeal letter, you’ll need to be as succinct and professional as possible to increase your chances of winning the appeal. Here’s what to know as you get started.

What is a financial aid appeal letter?

After you submit your FAFSA and apply to a college, your college will send you a financial aid award letter detailing every type of aid that’s available to you, including scholarships, work-study and federal student loans. Your financial aid is determined by the information you gave on your FAFSA, but circumstances may have changed since you submitted it.

If this is the case, you can send a letter to your school’s financial aid office appealing for more aid. While rare, it is possible to get more financial aid through this process. For some, a well-written letter is the only shot at getting more aid.

The letter should be submitted with care and for specific reasons; simply wanting more funds for financing your education isn’t enough. You’re most likely to receive more aid if you’ve experienced severe financial hardship since filling out your FAFSA.

How to write a financial aid appeal letter

Your financial aid appeal letter should be an explanation of your financial situation and why you need more aid, not a demand for more money.

Before you start writing, call your school’s financial aid office to discuss your options. Some colleges may have a different process than an appeal letter. If you do submit an appeal letter, here’s what to know:

  1. Don’t wait to write your appeal letter. Write your appeal letter as soon as possible to increase your chances of more aid. Schools have limited financial aid available, so it’s smart to get your letter in early during the admissions process.
  2. Address a specific person. In your letter, you can address someone in the financial aid office you’ve talked to before or someone listed on the department’s website. For more instruction, call the financial aid office and ask for the name of the best person to address. Addressing a specific person adds a personalized touch to your letter.
  3. Be clear and concise. Explain your specific requests in a succinct, respectful tone. Your tone matters; stick to the facts of the situation and explain how the lack of financial aid impacts your ability to attend the school.
  4. Use specific examples to support your claim. Don’t hesitate to provide detailed examples about your current situation. If one of your parents was laid off, for instance, include details about when it happened and how much your family’s income has been reduced.
  5. End on a positive note. Thank the specific person you addressed in the introduction and thank them for the opportunity to request more financial aid. Express gratitude and end on a friendly note, with the expectation that you’ll hear from them soon.

While writing a professional letter like this can be intimidating, there are online resources and templates that you can use to guide you through the writing process. Before sending, you can always have a trusted friend, family member or school counselor proofread your letter for you.

Good reasons to write a financial aid appeal letter

When it comes to writing an appeal letter, there are specific circumstances that increase your chances of approval.

Another school offers more financial aid

If you apply to more than one school and find that there’s a big difference in financial aid packages, use that gap to bolster your appeal for more aid. However, only compare offers at similar types of schools. For example, don’t compare an offer at a private university with one from a large, public university in an appeal letter.

If you have two schools that are comparable in size and stature, compare both of your aid packages. Then calculate the amount of financial aid you should receive based on the school’s net price calculator (NPC), available on school websites.

“If your offer is lower than what was estimated on the school’s NPC, then you have a good case for an appeal,” says Jonathan Howard, a financial planner at SeaCure Advisors.

In your appeal letter, state the larger offer you received, as well as the NPC information of the school you’re sending the letter to. This will create a stronger case and increase your chances of an appeal.

Your financial circumstances have changed

If your or your family’s financial situation changes or is not accurately portrayed on the FAFSA, you have a strong appeal case, says Howard.

“Schools that only use the FAFSA for financial aid applications aren’t collecting very much information,” he says. “Circumstances like job loss, or medical expenses — both of which are huge issues for many families as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — would not appear on the FAFSA.”

Some circumstances that warrant a financial aid appeal letter are:

  • Death of an immediate family member.
  • Unexpected medical expenses.
  • Divorce.
  • Job loss or a reduction in income.
  • Homelessness.

What to do if your appeal letter gets denied

There are still plenty of ways to make higher education more affordable if your appeal letter gets denied:

  • Apply for scholarships. Apply for as many scholarships as you can. Because you don’t have to pay back these funds, they’re an ideal first step if you need help paying for college. There are scholarships available for just about everything, available from schools, nonprofits and private organizations.
  • Consider private student loans. After maximizing your federal aid and scholarship opportunities, private student loans can help cover any remaining costs. They’re usually a last resort, since they can have higher interest rates than federal student loans and they don’t have the same benefits. However, with high loan amounts and some unique features, they are worth considering if you otherwise can’t afford your education.
  • Look at other programs. If you’ve exhausted every other financial aid option, consider a more affordable schooling option. Online schools and community colleges are often thousands of dollars cheaper than four-year universities. Many students attend community college for the first year or two of their education before transferring to a more expensive four-year college.

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