Can You Appeal For More Financial Aid?

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Joe Messinger

By Joe Messinger

March 10, 2022

It’s that time of year again. Financial aid letters are rolling in, and parents and students are working hard to crunch the numbers and determine whether or not they can afford to attend the college of their choice. 

This can be an incredibly stressful and difficult time for families. Not only are they working toward a huge milestone in their lives – sending their child off to college – they’re also trying to navigate social and family pressure to attend the “right” college, managing their child’s expectations for what they can afford, and reorganizing their goals to ensure they can balance the cost of college with saving for retirement. 

In this season of life, every dollar counts, and ensuring you find the most affordable path to the best-fit college for your student is critical. This is where appealing for more financial aid can be a beneficial move as families try to determine which college is right for their student. 

What is included in a financial aid package?

A financial aid package typically includes several critical components:

  1. Total cost of attendance. This is the total sticker price of the college, often including the tuition fees, room and board, and any other expenses or fees associated with attendance. 
  2. Grants. These tend to be need-based, so your client’s Expected Family Contribution matters. They may be institution awards or Pell grants for lower-income families who qualify.
  3. Scholarships. These can be either need or merit based, and can com from a variety of places. In your award letter, scholarships from the university will be the only ones represented, and you’ll need to take any private scholarships into account. Typically, scholarships have requirements in order to maintain funding. For example, a student may need to maintain their GPA to stay eligible. 
  4. Work-Study. This is typically an opportunity to work at the university and receive compensation. Students and parents need to decide if they want to maintain a job during school, and whether those funds will help pay for the cost of attendance or if they’ll fund the student’s lifestyle while at school. 
  5. Student and parent loans. The big one! Loans in your client’s financial aid award letters will be backed by the federal government. 
  6. Net cost. This is the total amount that is owed after any gifts are accounted for. This number does not typically include student loans. 

What’s a financial aid appeal?

It’s essentially a detailed letter, along with documentation to back up your narrative. You want to demonstrate that you are unable to afford the EFC as originally calculated and that you are requesting additional need-based aid.

There is no need to squirm. You are not asking for charity. You’re simply making the best financial decision in your current situation.

By the way, you aren’t the only one. Financial aid appeals have been spiking during the pandemic.

What should you include in a financial aid appeal?

Write a detailed letter that describes the reasons for your reduced income from 2021 earnings or for your expected income loss in 2022. Then, document, document, document.

Every piece of documentation should back up your narrative. 

For example:

  1. If you already filed your 2021 income tax return, include a copy.
  2. If you haven’t yet and you (or your CPA) won’t have it ready anytime soon, include copies of your 2021 W-2s and 1099s, as applicable.
  3. Include paystubs showing your current year-to-date earnings if those are less than your 2020 or 2021 earnings from the same period.
  4. If you lost your job, include the letter of termination.
  5. If you collected unemployment benefits in 2021, including the W-2.
  6. If you are currently collecting unemployment benefits, take screenshots of your weekly reports and include those.
  7. If you own a business and your sales are down, include monthly cash flow or income statements, along with corresponding documents from 2020 or early 2021 if they show more profitable numbers.
  8. Hard numbers maximize your odds, so include all documentation that will bolster your appeal.

Finally, conclude your letter with a formal ask that the college recalculate your EFC based on these current numbers that justify increased need-based aid.

Feel free to use our sample financial aid appeal letter to guide you.

Sample Letter

Good Morning [insert name of school’s financial rep],

Thank you for your financial aid offer dated xx/xx/2021 for [insert name of your child]. He/she is beyond thrilled having been accepted to [insert name of college], and we hope he/she will be able to start in the 2022 fall semester.

However, my family’s financial situation has worsened since 2021 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I am respectfully asking that you recalculate our Expected Family Contribution in light of our significant loss of earnings and to increase our son’s/daughter’s scholarship award.

On May 31, 2021, I was laid off from my job as [insert title of position] with [insert name of employer] due to budget cuts prompted by the pandemic. I collected unemployment for five months and was hired as [insert title of position] with [insert name of new employer] in November 2020. Unfortunately, my current salary is xx% less than at my previous job.

I have enclosed the original termination letter, W2s from my previous and current employers as well as from the [Division of Workforce Services]. Combined, these earnings total $xxx for 2021. That’s an xx% decrease compared to my 2020 earnings.

In light of my reduced earnings from working, I am respectfully reiterating my request for a recalculation of the EFC and a larger scholarship/grant award for our son/daughter.

Thank you for your consideration.


Your Signature

What other steps can you take?

After you’ve mailed your letter, follow up with a phone call a week or two later. Reiterate your child’s interest in attending the college and your willingness to support that plan. Ask about the status of your appeal. Indicate your openness to negotiate.

Be persistent and hopeful. Also, don’t forget: Lean on us. We love being a resource to help you. Sign up for a free MyCAP membership to find your most affordable path to college today.

A good place to start:

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