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If your family’s financial circumstances have changed, you can ask for more help.

When you got the thick envelopes with your college acceptances (yay!) or logged into your application accounts to see the good news, you likely also got financial aid award letters. These notices outline the different types of aid you’ve been awarded (loans, grants, scholarships, etc.) and the amounts, how much your family is expected to contribute, and what the net cost to you and your family will be, otherwise known as the cost of attendance.

Read these carefully as schools can use different letter templates. The Award Letter Comparison tool can help you decipher these letters.

If the cost of attendance is higher than you anticipated, perhaps due to an error on your financial aid application materials, or a change in your family’s financial circumstances, don’t panic. You may be able to appeal your financial aid award, and hopefully get more money.

Reasons to appeal your financial aid award

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) uses your tax returns from two years prior to help determine your aid eligibility. A lot can happen in two years! And if your family’s finances have changed considerably since then you may need more aid than you’ve been offered. For example, many families have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with job losses, furloughs, and medical bills. Some other factors that could impact a family’s ability to pay for college include:

  • Tuition expenses at an elementary or secondary school. If you have a sibling at an expensive private school, that may limit funds available for your college education.
  • Medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance.
  • Unusually high child care costs. If going to school means you have to put your child in an expensive daycare, this could cut into your available funds for tuition.
  • Reduction of wages or recent unemployment.
  • Number of parents enrolled in college at least half-time.
  • Changes in family income due to a parent death, divorce or separation.
  • Financial effects of a natural disaster.

How to write a financial aid appeal letter

If you’re going to appeal your award, the most important thing is to do it as soon as possible. Contact the financial aid office and find out the specifics of their process, which varies from one school to the next. It might include filling out an online form, or may require you to submit an appeal by mail or email.

When writing a financial aid appeal letter, format it like a business letter, and address it to someone at the financial aid office. Be as specific as possible in your request. For example, if your family has lost income or had outsized hospital bills, state the amounts and provide documentation. Make sure your letter has a professional tone, and be gracious. After all, you’re asking for money!

If you don’t win your FAFSA Appeal

The best case scenario is that the financial aid office agrees to increase your aid amount. But if they don’t, you have options. You can consider a less expensive school, or you can start your college education at community college, save some money, and then transfer to a university. Or, you can apply for additional student loans to cover the remaining expenses.

FAFSA® is a registered trademark of the US Department of Education and is not affiliated with Discover Student Loans.


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