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Image from Pexels

You just got the big envelope (or digital notification) that you have been accepted to a school and you are thrilled (as you should be). But then you look at your financial aid package and suddenly you aren’t so thrilled about that acceptance. Perhaps the school is asking your family to pay $20,000 when you can barely afford to pay $5,000 or maybe you realize that with your EFC you won’t be able to afford books, or perhaps another dilemma. Regardless of the situation you shouldn’t give up hope quite yet. Something many students don’t realize is that you can petition the school’s financial aid offer, asking for more aid.

Where to start?

The standard process for petitioning a financial aid award is sending a formal letter to the financial aid office (you can do so via email). Obviously you don’t want to write something like “Yo, I need more money (please),” but sometimes it is hard to know exactly what you should write. I recommend first discussing your financial situation with your family to see if there are any major expenses that don’t necessarily get reported on financial aid documents but that do impact your ability to pay for college. For example, families can pay a lot for pharmaceuticals and/or medical treatments.

The next thing you should do is discuss with your family if there have been any significant changes to the household’s income that has not been reflected on the application. (This can happen if the changes occurred after the last time your family filed taxes.)

If either of these situations are applicable to you, then you should mention them in your petition. Be sure to fully explain the circumstances. Even if neither of situations are applicable, you can still petition. It’s entirely possible that there are other factors that make it particularly difficult to afford college with your current financial aid. These could include travel expenses, the cost of books, and/or a variety of other things.

Of course even if none of these circumstances are applicable to you, it may very well be the case that your family simply can’t afford college with the current financial aid award. If this is the case, you can simply state that the current financial award presents a financial burden on your family. Don’t be afraid to petition even if you don’t have a specific reason that you can’t afford college.

As for actually sending your letter, I recommend sending it via email. Make sure that the email is professional and be sure to include all pertinent identifying information (such as an applicant ID number, if applicable). If you don’t receive any form of response after a week, I recommend either calling or emailing to follow-up and confirm that your petition had been received.

I want to take a moment to say that if you have any doubts about your ability to afford college (or even if you don’t), I strongly recommend applying for outside scholarships. As much as it would be great to live in a world where we can all afford college just through standard financial aid, this is not always the reality. If your petition is unsuccessful, scholarships can help to alleviate some of the financial burden. Also, colleges often let you use your outside aid to eliminate loans, reduce work study, pay for health insurance, etc.

To summarize, don’t immediately freak out when you receive a financial aid award that leaves a particular college unaffordable. Rather, write a formal letter petitioning the award and asking the school to consider giving you additional aid. Make sure to send it out soon after receiving the financial award and follow up if you don’t receive any form of response after a week. Good luck to everybody who is petitioning their financial aid awards!

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the author

Samantha Linder is a sophomore at Smith College where she is double majoring in neuroscience and art history. Samantha's favorite words include hippocampus, logorrhea, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

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