How to Submit a Financial Aid Appeal

The following is a guest post by Will Geiger, of Scholarships360.

Paying for college can be a complicated process for students and families. To be considered for financial aid, students must meet deadlines, consider large loan amounts, and fill out lengthy applications. On top of this, specific colleges might have additional requirements for merit scholarships. For some students, they can do all of this and still receive a financial aid award letter that simply doesn’t include enough financial aid.

Luckily, there’s something students can do in this situation. Many colleges allow students to appeal for more financial aid and merit scholarships. And to successfully appeal, you need to have proof of certain circumstances and documentation to back your claims. Keep on reading to learn more about how you can navigate the financial aid appeals process and what to expect. 

Getting Started with Financial Aid Appeals

A successful financial aid appeals process begins with having a strong case for reconsideration. Simply wanting more money won’t be enough for a college to add more financial aid to your package. 

Common reasons for financial aid appeals can include:

  • Mistakes on your financial aid applications
  • Change in family’s financial situation
  • Reconsideration for merit scholarships (assuming you’re a strong student)

It’s important to note that because need-based financial aid is awarded according to a specific formula based on your Expected Family Contribution, there’s generally less wiggle room for reconsideration than for merit scholarships.

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    Mistakes on Your Financial Aid Applications

    Carefully look through your financial aid applications like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or CSS Profile. If your financial aid award seems way off, review the numbers that you included in the FAFSA, CSS Profile, and other required financial aid documents.

    And if you spot a mistake, this is a good cause for a financial aid appeal.

    Change in Your Family’s Financial Situation

    Unfortunately for some students, certain life circumstances can change and lead to financial strain. Unexpected medical expenses, unemployment, and loss of income are just a few of the events that can make it more difficult to pay for college. This has been especially true throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

    If your family’s financial situation has changed between applying for financial aid and receiving your award letter, this is also a good cause for filing a financial aid appeal.

    Reconsideration for merit scholarships

    If the college in question offers merit scholarships and you’re a strong candidate, you can also appeal for more scholarship dollars. Additionally, you can also potentially appeal for a higher scholarship package if you’ve already received a merit scholarship.

    The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure that the college actually offers merit scholarships. Next, make sure that you would be a strong candidate. If you can’t find specific information about testing and grades for scholarship winners, you can make an estimate based on the data for students accepted for first year admission.

    When to Submit Your Financial Aid Appeal

    You should submit the financial aid appeal as soon as possible. Remember, colleges give students a set amount of time to make a decision about enrolling or not. But time is of the essence and you must begin the appeals process as soon as you can because it can take some time for colleges to make decisions.

    How to Submit Your Financial Aid Appeal

    While some colleges and universities may have a formal process for appealing for more financial aid (here’s an example from the University of Michigan), other colleges won’t be so clear. 

    If you intend on appealing for financial aid, the first step is to call the financial aid office to inquire about the institution’s policy for financial aid appeals. At many colleges, the process includes writing a letter that explained why you want to be reconsidered for financial aid and merit scholarships. You can use this letter to “make your case” and include any additional information that will help the appeal committee better understand your situation.

    This can include updated tax forms, records of medical expenses, or merit scholarship offers from other colleges.

    After submitting the financial aid appeal, you can expect to receive a decision within a few weeks (though this will depend on the individual institution). 

    What If Your Appeal Doesn’t Work?

    Truthfully, most appeals don’t get overturned in the student’s favor. That’s because colleges have very specific budgets and have generally modeled out their financial aid budget to ensure that all financial aid is spent. 

    But if your financial aid appeal doesn’t work, you still have a few options:

    • Apply for private scholarships (remember scholarships are money that doesn’t need to be repaid)
    • Choose a more affordable college option
    • Take out student loans 

    When it comes to submitting a financial aid appeal, make sure to plead your case with as much information about your situation as possible. The more detailed your appeal, the greater your chances are at getting it approved.

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