Image from StockSnap

Image from StockSnap.

Getting into your dream school (or any school for that matter) can be extremely exciting, yet often when you get your financial aid award a few weeks later you have to face the reality that said school isn’t nearly as affordable as you thought it would be. But don’t give up quite yet, you can still try and appeal your financial aid package.

What is a financial aid appeal?

Appealing financial aid is exactly what it sounds like; you are basically going to the financial aid office and saying, “Hey, I can’t afford this. Can you give me more money?” While there is no guarantee that an appeal will work, it is worth trying if you feel that your family needs more aid.

How do I appeal?

The process varies from school to school, but tends to be generally the same. I recommend contacting the school’s financial aid office before getting started on an appeal to confirm that school’s appeal process. The norm is that you write a letter to the financial aid office explaining that you feel that you realistically need more financial aid to be able to attend, and also discussing any factors that hinder your ability to pay that may not have been reflected on your financial aid application. Be sure to write your letter in a professional manner and to edit it carefully.

What type of things should I mention?

The answer to this is that it is truly a case-by-case situation. It may be best to talk to your family to see if there are any financial matters that they feel need to be mentioned. Things that may be applicable to you include: high medical bills in your family, extenuating financial circumstances for a particular year (perhaps your family’s heater broke halfway through the winter, and you had to pay for it immediately), and/or extremely high travel costs for you to be able to travel to said school.

When should I appeal?

Appeal as soon as you receive a financial award that you realize is financially insufficient for you to be able to attend the school. It is never too late to appeal the letter, however the earlier the better.

When will I hear back?

This will vary based on when you submit the appeal. If you appeal during busy times for the financial aid office (like early April) it could take upwards of several weeks to hear back.

What is the likelihood of the school giving me more aid?

Again this varies. (That seems to be a reoccurring answer.) Variables include the school’s financial aid policy and also the circumstances that lead to you needing more aid. My understanding is that you will also have a better chance at successfully appealing if a school is committed to meeting 100 percent of demonstrated need.

My appeal got denied. What do I do now?

There isn’t really any point to appealing to the same school twice in one academic year, assuming your financial situation hasn’t changed. If this is the school that you want to attend (or are already attending), your next move should probably be to look into their outside aid policy. If the school will allow you to use outside aid to reduce your contribution (as opposed to reducing the amount of grant aid given), then you should look into and apply to outside scholarships. The Prospect has lots of great resources about finding and applying to scholarships (1, 2, 3, 4).

Appealing financial aid is far from a guarantee, but there is nothing to lose by trying to appeal. So if when financial aid awards comes out you feel like you are unable to afford a particular school, consider appealing your financial aid.

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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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