If your financial aid award letter leaves you with a balance to pay, you may be able to get additional aid by appealing your award if there are extenuating circumstances. It requires some extra work on your part, but it could make all the difference in the amount of student loan debt you have to take on.
Just remember: An appeal doesn't guarantee you any additional funding—but in certain situations, it is an appropriate course of action. If you think you may be entitled to more financial aid due to circumstances not reflected on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), start by learning about your school's appeals process. You should be able to find the information you need on their financial aid website, or by speaking with a financial aid counselor.
In some cases, the process requires you to write a letter of appeal. In others, the college may require you to complete a form. In either case, you'll need to prove that you have financial need that isn't reflected on your FAFSA and should be awarded additional funding. You may be able to have an appeal approved for a few different reasons.
1. Changes To Your Financial Status
This is the main criteria on which financial aid appeals are generally decided. Because the FAFSA now uses tax information from 2 years prior to your enrollment date, it's possible your family's financial situation could have changed significantly since that time. If this happens to you, let your financial aid office know.
If your family has experienced job loss, extraordinary medical expenses, or any other financial hardship that will impact your ability to pay for school, notify your financial aid office through an appeal—especially if the circumstance isn't reflected on your FAFSA.
Don't include information that will change in future years (for example, if your parent plans to retire when you're a junior). These things will be taken into account when you apply for aid during those years.
2. Your Grades
Strong academic performance is one of the primary criteria for institutional merit-based aid. If you've consistently maintained a particularly strong GPA but you aren't receiving much merit-based aid, that's a good reason to write an appeal.
Just make sure to appeal to the right office. Merit aid is rarely awarded by the financial aid office. Find out which office is in charge of merit award determinations at your school, and send your appeal to them. The financial aid office is generally responsible for need-based aid only.
If you were receiving merit-based aid last semester but your financial aid package changed due to a drop in your grades, you may be able to appeal that, too. If something serious (like a medical condition or a problem at home) occurred during the past semester and made it difficult or impossible for you to achieve ideal grades, explain it to your financial aid office.
If your appeal is based on academic issues, you can strengthen your argument by suggesting an improvement plan, like committing to use your school's tutoring or counseling programs. They may reinstate your merit-based grants the following semester if you are able to improve your GPA quickly.
Institutional financial aid, including need-based aid, tends to be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Students who complete their FAFSA and any additional required forms by the college's priority deadline will be in the best position to appeal their aid packages.
If you completed your FAFSA late or were selected for verification (the process where your financial aid office confirms the financial information on your FAFSA is correct) but failed to provide supplemental documentation in a timely manner, you may not be granted an appeal.
Tips For Your Appeal Process
If you've researched the school's appeals process, assessed your situation, and believe you would be a good candidate for appealing your award, then it's time to write your appeal letter. Here are some tips for writing a clear and compelling letter for your school to consider:
- Be honest and transparent about your situation while being clear and detailed.
- Keep the tone of your letter polite and respectful.
- Have one or two people review and edit your letter before sending it.
- Make sure you have all of your related financial paperwork ready in case it is requested.
- Make a connection with a financial aid adviser who is familiar with your case before submitting your appeal letter. Be sure to address your letter to that person specifically when it's time to send it in.
- Ask if work-study is a possibility. If you've already received work-study as part of your aid offer but you'd like a loan instead, ask if that's a possibility.
- Be willing to do extra work to improve your grades and show that you have a plan in place to do so.
- Follow up with a thank you note to anyone who assists you through this process.
Appealing your award will likely be a little stressful and bit frustrating at times. But you'll definitely learn a lot from the process ... and hopefully you'll wind up with a financial aid package that works for you.