Financial Aid Appeal Letter

Each year, we discuss the different situations that prompt families to prepare a financial aid appeal letter. This year, we are seeing the cascading financial backlash of the coronavirus pandemic and expect more families to have to submit an appeal. Just as you may be feeling stressed, understand that colleges are also scrambling, as their ability to open could be very different depending on their location.

Before we start, the PayForED team wants to congratulate all the high school seniors who have been accepted to college. As only about 35% of the US population attain a college degree, we applaud you on achieving Step 1 towards this goal.

In our current environment, we still must plan for some sense of normality and it will return in the coming months. A Financial Aid Appeal letter should be sent if there is a change in your family’s financial status since the submission of your FAFSA.   Listed below are the reasons for appealing your financial aid award letter as well as a sample letter titled, “Financial Aid Appeal letter”. You can use this as a guide.

Reasons to Appeal Financial Aid Award Letter

There are several reasons or circumstances that may warrant a review of your award letter. Specifically, the family will need to list any financial changes that will hurt their ability to pay that college’s tuition.  Here are changes that may have occurred since filing the FAFSA.  Most of these events are due to a change in income or an increase in personal expenses.  Some of the possible reasons include:

  • A parent losing a job or reduction of income
  • Unexpected medical expenses
  • Death of a parent
  • A one-time increase in family’s income reflected in the based FAFSA year
  • Support of an elderly parent
  • Damage due to natural disaster
  • Divorce or Separation

Steps in the Appeal Process

The first step for a family should be to contact the financial aid office. Colleges are closed but the financial aid office is working remotely. A family will need to determine the exact office, to whom the appeal letter should be sent, and the required format or form. As the appeal process is unique to each institution, getting the correct process is important.

In your appeal letter, you will need to list specific information about the student.  Typically, listed with the student’s name, you will also need to locate the student ID number located on the award letter.  Part of the process also includes finding the relevant dates needed to process the appeal.  As stated above, each school has its own process and dates that need to be followed.

It is the responsibility of the family to justify any changes with financial facts.  For this reason, I always suggest that families include any financial numbers that show the adjustments in their income when submitting their appeal.  We recommend that your appeal letter be short, polite, and concise.  This will help the reader during the appeal process.

The financial aid office may request further documentation to support your appeal request.  This means that third-party documentation of your adjusted income should be available to support your appeal.  One of the key documents to have ready is a family’s most current tax return.  Your current tax information was not used during your earlier FAFSA completion due to Prior Prior.  The current tax return may reflect any changes in income and improve your chance of success.  If you are considering appealing the financial award letter and are thinking about filing your taxes on extension, it may be a good idea to get them done during the appeal process.  As stated above, having the current information better supports the appeal.

This process may take several weeks to review and if approved the family would receive a revised financial aid award letter.

Professional Judgment Adjustment

During this process, a family may hear the word professional judgment in reference to their appeal.  This refers to the ability of the financial aid administrators at the college to adjust a student’s federal aid application (FAFSA) based on special financial circumstances provided by the family.  It is important that the family knows that it is a professional judgment at that specific college and not all changes in financial circumstances will result in a positive financial adjustment for the student financial award.  Depending on the college, each result can be different and will be based on their financial situation and the need of the college for the student.

Financial Aid Appeal Letter Sample

To help you better understand how you should format your appeal letter, I am going to give you a specific family situation.

Family situation: 

A family filed taxes married/joint in the tax year 2018.  The FAFSA base year for this year entering college freshman is 2018. One of the spouses was recently laid off.  There is now a loss of income of $70,000 per year.  This family’s Federal (FAFSA) Expected Family Contribution or EFC was $42,406 using the tax year 2018.  If the college accepts the full impact of this loss of a job, it could result in an EFC change of over $31,000.  This would result in a significant change in the financial award letter for the student.

Appeal Letter based on the above scenario:

Sample Appeal Letter

(Attach any financial documents that warrant a review of your financial changes)

Conclusion

Due to the Coronavirus, many colleges have changed their commitment deadline.  As of early April, over 300 schools had pushed their deadline to June 1st and this number could include more colleges as the college shutdown continues.  It is recommended you contact the colleges to confirm their commitment date. 

If you are planning to appeal your financial aid award, I recommend that you start the process as soon as possible.  As other students decline their offers, there may be new college money available and that may result in a favorable financial outcome for you. Ultimately, the professional judgment of the college will determine if your appeal request is successful.  Providing the institution with the proper financial documents in a concise and easy to read appeal letter could be the key to your success. 

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