How to Appeal for More College Aid


How to Appeal for More College Aid

As the final college acceptances come out over the next week, many families may find themselves with a common dilemma: they like a particular college, but not its price tag. However, it is possible to appeal for more financial aid or more merit aid. Here’s how.

First of all, what’s the difference between appealing for more financial aid and more merit aid?

Financial aid is based on your family’s financial situation, whereas merit aid is based on a student's grades, test scores, and extracurricular achievement (i.e. their desirability as an applicant). 

In what situations can I appeal for more financial aid?

Families can appeal for more financial aid if their finances have changed since filling out the FAFSA, or if their financial situation was not fully captured by the FAFSA. Some reasons for appealing include:

--A job loss or new job with lower income
--Change in marital status or family size
--A parent enrolling in college full-time
--High out-of-pocket medical expenses
--No longer receiving child support
--Support of elderly relative or family overseas
--Extra care expenses for a special needs child

How do I appeal for more financial aid?

To file your appeal, go to the school’s website and see if there is an official appeal form. If there is no form, directly contact the school's financial aid office and ask for a professional judgement (this is just the official term for a financial aid appeal). Explain your situation in detail and include all relevant documentation (e.g. medical bills, a termination letter, updated bank statements). The more detailed your appeal, the more likely it will yield additional funds.

When can I appeal for more financial aid?

You can appeal at any point after receiving your financial aid offer--you do not have to wait to enroll before appealing.

What about an appeal for more merit aid?

An appeal for merit aid will be addressed to the admissions office rather than the financial aid office. And unlike an appeal for more financial aid, which is generally written by a parent, an appeal for merit aid can be written by the applicant.

To increase your chance at a higher merit aid offer, present evidence of one or more of the following in the appeal:

--Improved grades/GPA since the time of the application
--New accomplishments (e.g. an academic award or major achievement. Did your child recently place in the state History Day competition or science fair? They should mention that!)
--Competing scholarship offers

A note on this last point: competing offers can be used as leverage, but this tactic is generally only effective when the competing offer comes from a similarly competitive school. For example, let’s say a student receives a $15,000 annual scholarship from Santa Clara University (US News rank: 54), a $22,000 annual scholarship from University of San Francisco (US News rank: 97), and a $30,000 annual scholarship from the University of Denver (US News rank: 97). Because Santa Clara is more selective/higher ranked than both USF and the University of Denver, SCU admissions officers will probably not be swayed by those comparatively generous offers. SCU has a more competitive applicant pool, so they face less pressure to discount tuition to fill out the class.

On the other hand, USF may be willing to offer more aid after reviewing the University of Denver’s offer because these two schools have similar applicant pools. They are competing for the same students.*

Finally, know that some hyper-selective schools (e.g. Stanford, Amherst, Caltech, the Ivies) offer no merit aid to anyone, so appealing for merit aid will be a non-starter.

What else should I include in my merit aid appeal?

In addition to the aforementioned items, students should emphasize that the college in question is a top--or, better yet, the top--choice for them. They want to communicate that they would really like to enroll but that money is the one thing holding them back.

What else should I know?

Successful appeals generally result in “only” an extra two or three thousand dollars per year. Still it doesn’t hurt to ask for more money. The worst that can happen is that the college will turn down your request.

Another tip: don’t use the word negotiate (even if that is clearly what you are doing!). Instead, stick with the preferred language of an “appeal.”


*It is worth noting that a more selective or higher ranked school is not necessarily a better school. The author Malcolm Gladwell does a great job explaining why in this excellent New Yorker article.


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