Some colleges send out their financial aid offers along with their acceptance letters, though others may send them a couple weeks later as a follow-up to the initial acceptance. Financial aid is determined by a school based on the information in the FAFSA and/or CSS Profile as well as the student’s academic performance. Some students may also receive scholarships for their participation in sports, particular charity organizations, etc.
A financial aid offer from a school is just that—an offer. You’re not obligated to accept it, and you’re within your rights to respond with a request for more aid if you feel that your family needs it. However, it’s important to pursue a financial aid package appeal with realistic expectations.
It is essential to read the fine print on every financial aid offer your student receives. These communications are ultimately not standardized across the nation and every offer will therefore use different language, formatting, and levels of detail. For example, some schools will group loans together with scholarships, even though the scholarships do not need to be paid back the way a loan does. You must be especially conscious of the vocabulary of these communications so you understand the offer being made.
Some things to look for:
- Does the offer letter list just some or ALL of the college expenses?
- Does the school clearly separate the “free” money (scholarship) from the “self-help” money (loans)?
- Is it easy to tell how much of a funding gap there is between the total cost of attendance and your family’s budget?
- Have you received better offers from equivalent schools?
If you feel that you have a case to appeal after you have carefully read the entire financial aid offer, you can begin the appeals process. Again, this is not standardized and each school has a different system for their appeals. It’s ideal to call the financial aid office or even pay them a visit in person, but you may also send them a detailed email outlining your situation and then follow up with a telephone call.
Important things to remember:
- Go into the conversation with a specific “ask”—i.e. a particular amount of money you need in addition to what they have already offered.
- If you are appealing due to a significant change in your financial situation, be prepared to provide official documentation (i.e. hospital bills) to support your appeal.
- This is not a negotiation where you have the opportunity to haggle back and forth. You are instead asking for the financial aid office to reconsider their offer.
- Financial aid officers are compelled to use their professional judgment to determine the validity of the appeal.
- Use a friendly, non-confrontational tone.
- Be prepared to make a deposit as soon as possible if your “ask” is met.
Our goal at SFC is to help families develop realistic expectations right up front before the college list is even made, so that your student will eventually apply to schools where they’ll not only be accepted but also offered the best financial aid packages.