Appealing to the Financial Aid Office

Posted on May 15, 2009. Filed under: college admissions, College Advice, college counseling, college financial planning, education, financial aid |

The college appeal process is an extremely powerful tool that is often successful in increasing a student’s financial aid package. However, the success of an appeal will depend greatly on how valid your reasons are to receive an increased financial package and the manner in which you present the appeal to the Financial Aid Office.

Before listing some valid reason, there are some basic facts that you should be aware of.

1)    Appeals will rarely work at public universities unless there has been an obvious and significant error made by you on the FAFSA questionnaire. Private universities that use the Institutional Method (Profile) are unique in that the Financial Aid officer has the authority to use “Professional Judgment”, a term that means they virtually have unlimited power to override the result derived from the formulas used on the Profile application, even if it means literally changing the numbers that you have input on the form.

2)    The appeal should be made in person if possible, even if it means travelling in order to meet with the Financial Aid officer.

3)    The appeal is not a negotiation and you should never present it in that matter or even mention the word

4)    It will always help if your child has strong merit credentials

There are two types of appeals that can be made, competitive and financial. A competitive appeal merely means that if your child has one school that they have decided upon, this should not stop you from applying to other schools that are directly competitive with the first choice, meaning they have a similar academic level, a similar geographical location and hopefully in the same athletic conference. This is often missed by counselors. If you wind up with a superior aid package from an alternate school, your choice is to show the first choice school the competing award in hope that they will match it.

Financial appeals mainly deal with special circumstances. The average child or parent that is not comfortable with financial concepts will usually answer the questions just as they are asked. They do not think of an answer that would provide a much clearer picture to the financial office and the financial department is not going to be aware of special circumstances unless you tell them. Here is a partial list of valid reasons.

1)    You have children at private schools (K-12) that they are not aware of. (private universities do ask this question but FAFSA does not.

2)    You have documented proof of upcoming medical expenses that will put a burden on you.

3)    Your income is not stable. Possibly you had a windfall in your most recent tax return that was not indicative of your regular income. It could be a bonus, sale of stock, unusually high commission if you are paid mainly that way.

4)    You have had a recent loss of income or have lost your job since the aid decision was made.

5)    An unusual event such as a natural disaster has occurred in your area and will impact your finances significantly.

6)    A labor strike has occurred that has you out of work with no timetable of return.

There are others that are realistic events that will make your next year’s income far less, compared to what figures you listed on the form.

Remember, whatever reason that you mention, it must be well documented through letters from professionals that can verify your facts or financial statements that shows proof of any unusual hardship.

Richard Borin is a Registered Investment Advisor and a Certified College Planning Specialist. He specializes in Wealth Management, Retirement Plans and Educational Saving Plans. He can be reached through email at 


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