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How to Appeal a Financial Aid Award Letter

Financial Aid is a major emotional pain point for many talented youngsters and their families, and more awareness is needed about the value of "appeals". 

What are appeal letters?

The appeal letter is the letter you or your parent/guardian (whoever is paying for the majority of your schooling) writes to the office of financial aid in response to your award letter that showed you how much aid you will receive. 

The appeal letter is asking for more. 

"Too often families think of the financial aid award letter as being set in stone and not subject to appeal. Chances are there is some bit of information the financial aid office was unaware of when they calculated your financial aid package."

-Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research for 


Colleges and financial aid administrators have significant flexibility in deciding how to respond to appeals.

Call and ask what their process is (submit a form, send a letter etc) so you can appeal properly within their guidelines and give yourself the best chance. 

Remember, they will not know about a change in income or unusual expenses unless you tell them.

If you tell them about a change in income or unusual expenses you’ve incurred since submitting your FAFSA, they can make adjustments that can lead to a better financial aid package.

A good appeal letter is a sure fire way to get more money for college. 

So lets get right into it...


Here’s what is recommended by financial aid offices for a legitimate, successful appeal letter...

  • Clearly explain your reasons.

  • Provide evidnce 

  • Respectful, honest, and concise writing

  • Submit the financial aid appeal letter the right way.


The key to successful appeal letters is your REASONS. You have to have really good reasons why your asking for your financial aid package to be re-evaluated.


It is recommended by many financial aid administrators to start with a bullet list (for easy readability) of specific examples that are affecting your ability to pay for college. For example…

  • a parent losing a job

  • a divorce

  • a stream of income ending

  • natural disasters that resulted in losses

  • significant medical/dental expenses

  • care for a special needs family member

  • if the estimate for educational costs is significantly lower than the actual costs. 

For each of these, you should explain (in a concise manner) HOW it has affected your ability to pay.


Gather documentation and providing proof is essential.

Offices will ask for proof if it is not given with the appeal letter, so include it right up front. 

The best form of support documentation is from 3rd party sources. 


  • A paid medical bill or pay stubs showing a decrease in income.

  • Letters from other people, like an insurance agent or health professional who can speak to the family's situation.

  • Copies of more generous packages offered by other colleges

Lastly, be sure to mention in your letter that you are willing to provide whatever documentation is necessary to support your case. This shows that you’re serious and willing to work to provide proof for whatever they may need.


Here is an example…

Here is another example from the parent as writer...

Dear Financial Aid Director,

I am writing this letter on behalf of Shelby Broke’s admission into The University of Great Actors. Shelby’s first choice university is, and always has been, the University of Great Actors. However, the only thing holding her back from accepting the offer and sending in her deposits is finances. I would like to have the opportunity to explain my situation in greater detail based on recent developments that have negatively affected my financial situation.

My mother - Shelby's grandmother - has recently had to move into our home due to a worsening case of dementia. She is no longer able to care for herself, so we decided to have her move into our home. While we are grateful that we get to spend more time with her, there have been many unexpected expenses associated with this move. She is unable to climb stairs or use the bathroom without aid, so we have had to put in many expensive additions to our home, such as a ramp, and remodel our bathroom to make it easier for her to use. This situation has had a significant impact on our finances.

In addition, we have two other children; one of which is attending college at Sweet University as a senior this year. Our youngest child will be applying for colleges next year, so that will be another financial burden.

Lastly, Shelby’s mother, unfortunately, lost her job at the start of the new year due to layoffs at her company. We are currently living on just one salary, and since my wife is nearing retirement age, she has not had any luck in finding a new position.

Shelby was fortunate enough to get a scholarship from That Other University for $27,000 a year, renewable for four years. This is one of five merit-based scholarships she has received. However, due to our current financial situation, we would hate to turn down a substantial scholarship, although it is has been Shelby’s dream to attend the University of Great Actors since she was a young girl.

I would like to set up a phone call with your office to discuss our financial needs further. We can provide proof and documentation of our current financial situation if needed. Thank you very much for your time, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.


Matt Smith


You want to submit the appeal letter immediately after you receive your financial aid award letter for multiple reasons:

  1. It shows your on top of it and take this matter seriously

  2. You have to put your deposit down at some point, so you want to give yourself as much time as possible to work this out with them. They’re not likely to respond right away.

Be honest, humble, and clear in your appeal letter and they will re-evaluate your financial aid. Make sure to thank them for their assistance, and go get that money!


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