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Appealing a Financial Aid Award for College

written by: jciotta•edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom•updated: 8/16/2010

Learn how to appeal a financial aid award for college. Students and parents who receive an unacceptable financial aid package can go back and negotiate with a financial aid officer at the school. We discuss the steps to take in order to do so.

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    So, Your Financial Aid Package Stinks?

    Appeal a Financial Aid Award Yes, this happens to many parents and students. They are excited, waiting in anticipation to receive the acceptance letter. Once they do, it's all joy and celebration. Then the financial aid award letter comes. The mood can quickly turn sour.

    So do you just let your anger stew and accept your fate, or can you appeal it?

    Most parents and students do not realize that they can absolutely appeal their financial aid award. And they have the right to do so. Often times, parents and students end up paying an unreasonable amount because they figure, that's that. But in truth, if they have a solid case, it's time to negotiate.

    The first thing to do is make sure you have a case. Ask yourself these questions:

    • Is there a considerable gap between the amount you and your family can actually afford and what the college estimates is your Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?
    • Did the student receive much more competitive financial aid packages from competing universities? For example, did Brown University award more than University of Pennsylvania? (It cannot be, did unknown state university offer more than UPenn?)
    • What is your strategy? How will you convince the financial aid office to help you?

    You might not know the answer to the questions in the last bullet point. So let's talk strategy.

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    How to Appeal a Financial Aid Award

    When wondering how to appeal a financial aid award, the first thing to know is where to appeal. You would not appeal to the federal or state government. It is out of their hands. Now, it is in the hands of each individual college. So you must appeal to each college separately.

    Call the college's financial aid office and ask to speak with the financial aid officer (FAO) who is handling your award. If the FAO is not there, or cannot speak, ask an assistant to set up a meeting and explain that you would like to discuss the award. If possible, try to do the meeting in person. Ask for the FAO's email or fax number and email or fax all your supporting documents ahead of time. That way the FAO can review all the documents and then speak with you.

    Always be courteous to whomever you speak with. Why? Politeness is best in this situation. If you call and you're angry, belligerent and screaming at someone in the financial aid office or the FAO, this will lessen your chances to zero for receiving any extra money.

    A day or so before the in-person or phone meeting, send all the documents that support why you are appealing this award. Documents include:

    • W-2 forms
    • An updated letter from the parent's boss stating s/he was laid off
    • Any official documents that prove a financial drop in income
    • Competitive offer or offers from equally competitive or better schools

    In the meeting, explain the situation politely. Be certain to understand all the terms and lingo so the FAO sees you understand the process. Ask any questions you may have. Also, remember to not waste the FAO's valuable time. In other words, get to the point. Once the meeting is finished, thank the FAO and ask when you will hear the decision of the appeal. Ask if you can email her/him by a certain time if you do not hear from her/him. Take the FAO's phone number and email.

    Learning how to appeal a financial aid award for college is a proactive way to ensure you will pay the correct amount. Follow the aforementioned tips to help you present the best appeal possible.

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    Photo Credit

    Photo by Renjith Krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net -- freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=721