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Should you appeal your financial aid award?

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Mar 7, 2017 9:17:28 AM

Financial aid awards aren’t written in stone. They are designed by the school to meet your needs while balancing the needs of other students, and sometimes they aren’t what you had hoped for. But never fear, if you feel like you need more aid to make a school work for your family budget, you can always try to appeal the award. It doesn't always work, but if you have good reason and documents to support your request, schools are usually willing to take a second look.

The Appeals Process

If you’ve crunched the numbers and know that you aren’t going to be able to afford school, don’t bury your head in the sand. Reach back out to the school with a financial aid award appeal. Most schools have a formal process that involves reviewing the award package along with any suggestions from you as to why the original offer is insufficient. Note the supporting documentation you may need in each of these instances!

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Here are some of the most common reasons that appeals are often considered, and sometimes approved.

Changes in your finances

The single most compelling reason for a Financial Aid Office to reconsider their original offer is that your financial circumstances have changed. This can happen for almost any reason, but there are some common life events that can drastically alter your finances, and therefore your Estimated Family Contribution.

  • Job Loss: If you or a family member has had a significant change in job status (employed to unemployed, full-time to part-time), make sure to discuss this with your financial aid office. It’s common, it can create a serious financial aid deficit, and it should be addressed in your appeal. You may need to present pay stubs, tax documents, or letters from employers confirming the changes you allege in your appeal. The school can then use "professional judgment" to override your offer.
  • Divorce: Along with all of the other natural upheaval that comes with divorce, make sure you remember to consider your financial aid award. This is not the time to add additional financial stress to your life, and financial aid administrators are likely to appreciate your concerns.
  • Medical bills: If medical bills or other debt have caused your family’s budget to substantially change, bring it up! Show the bills if necessary, and remember that financial aid staff see this stuff all the time. They aren’t there to judge or counsel; they’re there to help you fund your college education. The same holds true for legal fees, new or altered mortgages, or other types of debts or loans.

Improved grades

If your grades have improved, you’re showing real promise academically, and that means that your new financial aid award may reflect that improvement if you are now a more desirable student to the school. This is an especially important consideration if you struggled during your first semester or year of school. Make sure to have a recent transcript on hand, as you’ll likely need to supply it to the financial aid office. Your school may not offer as competitive an offer when you struggle academically, but they may be willing to sweeten the deal once you’ve proven yourself with a respectable GPA.

Leverage other offers

If you’ve received a better offer from another school, be prepared to present evidence of that offer to your school subsequent to your appeal. Universities compete for students, and if you’re on the verge of leaving for the simple reason that you’ve received a better award, you’re in a good position to negotiate. Keep in mind that you’ll want to be able to support your negotiation with excellent academic performance. A poor GPA doesn’t offer a compelling reason for your school to go to bat for you.

The appeals process is designed to help. It’s an opportunity to explain your circumstances to a willing group of listeners, who have the capacity to reevaluate and potentially alter your financial aid award in order to better meet your needs.


Need help comparing your financial aid offers? The CPC can help. Book a free apointment today.

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Topics: College Financial Aid, Financial Aid Award Letters, College Planning