Did you get your financial aid award letter yet? Was it good news or bad news?
For some lucky families, the search for college funding ends here. However, you may find that — like many others all across the country — there's a gap between what you've been offered in aid and how much is going to be due on your final bill.
In a lot of cases, this funding gap is met by taking out additional loans, scaling back on classes, or taking a part time job.
But if you feel your award letter, which includes your family’s estimated financial contribution (EFC), doesn’t accurately represent your family’s ability to pay, you may want to consider an appeal.
What is an appeal?
An appeal is a formal request by your family to the financial aid office to review your aid award package.
Appeals are tools available to families that feel that the aid package they received is not reflective of their financial circumstances.
Did you make a mistake on your FAFSA?
Before you officially appeal, the staff at your school will likely review your FAFSA to check for errors, which is a common reason for lower-than-expected aid packages.
The FAFSA can be confusing and frustrating if you fill it out on your own — and one mistake is enough to significantly affect your funding.
If you haven’t yet completed your FAFSA, remember to take your time and read the questions carefully. If you are unsure of an answer, read our Nitro FAFSA guides or contact the financial aid office of the school that you're appling to. Do not guess!
One important distinction on the FAFSA is whether you apply as an independent or dependent student. Independent students typically receive more aid, but must meet certain criteria. (If you think you’ve completed this section incorrectly, you might need to fill out a Dependency Review Form.)
Another question on the FAFSA asks if you have already received your degree. If you've marked yes but have only taken some classes without graduating, you may have inadvertently disqualified yourself from federal aid.
When should you appeal?
In general, you should consider appealing if the aid awarded is lower than what your family can pay due to a change in circumstances.
If a counselor or financial aid director has determined that your FAFSA was completed correctly, they can review your family’s individual circumstances to see if additional aid might be warranted.
Keep in mind that not every family with a funding gap should appeal. If you need more aid but your family’s finances are still the same as what was reported on your FAFSA, an appeal will likely be denied.
Reasons to appeal
There are a lot of different reasons why a family’s income might change significantly from year to year.
Common reasons for filing an award letter appeal include the death of a parent, loss of income, unexpected medical bills, bankruptcy, or incarceration to name just a few.
You should generally consider appealing if a life-altering event has caused your family’s finances to change such that you are no longer able to meet your expected contribution.
How to appeal
If you think a financial aid award appeal is the right option, follow the directions your school has in place. Each college or university is unique and has their own process. If you can't find the instructions online, call the financial aid department.
Appeals are reviewed on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of their financial aid officials.
Be sure you have documentation of your extenuating reason for applying. For instance, if you or another member of your household had unexpected medical expenses, gather your hospital bills. If a parent has passed away, you might need a copy of their death certificate.
Important: don't wait to appeal
Remember: the sooner your awards package is finalized, the more likely you are to receive aid. Having your documents ready to go will ensure that your school’s busy financial aid office processes it as quickly as they can.
Financial aid award appeals aren’t for every family, or even most. But if you feel you have a case for an increase in aid, don’t be afraid to reach out to your school. At worst they can say no and at best it could yield thousands of extra dollars in aid for your family.
See also: How to Write a Successful Financial Aid Appeal Letter.