Breakdown: What makes an effective financial aid appeal letter
For most students, even generous award packages leave a significant gap between the cost of college and what you (and your family) can afford to pay. If that’s the case for you, a well-crafted appeal letter — with documented reasons for your appeal — might convince the college of your choice to increase your financial aid award.
If you don’t ask, you’ll never know if you could have received more aid. Yet many students don’t appeal their financial aid. It can feel awkward to ask or they may not even know that they can. To make the process easier for you, we’ve included five sample letters (and a follow-up message) you can use to write your own appeal letter.
How to use these samples
The samples below each address one of the most common reasons people send appeal letters. Feel free to mix and match ideas from each letter, depending on your specific circumstances.
Use these as a guide but revise them. It’s less important to use specific wording and more important to sound authentic. You want it to sound like you wrote it.
Finally, while no two appeal letters are the same, effective ones have some similar points. In your letter, you want to ensure you include the following:
why you think you and this school are a good fit (if it’s your top choice, say so)
a clear statement of what you’re asking for
relevant information about how your circumstances have changed and/or weren’t accurately reflected in your application & FAFSA — and how that impacts your financial need
any forms, documents or other requirements the school may have for its appeal process (check on their website or call the office for specifics)
any documentation you have to back up your statements or prove you have additional financial need
a polite, professional closing
We’ve only included the bodies of the letters below, but your letter should include the full address of the person you’re contacting, such as:
Ms. Sue Jones
Office of Financial Aid
[insert mailing address]
To wrap up your letter, close professionally. Phrases like “Sincerely,” “Best regards,” “Respectfully,” and “With appreciation” are classics for a reason. Sign your name with your contact information below, such as:
Appeal reason: Medical crisis/reduced income
Dear Ms. Jones,
I’m an incoming freshman excited to attend [insert name of college] this fall. Thank you for the detailed financial aid package. Unfortunately, after I submitted my application, my family’s financial situation changed significantly.
Shortly before receiving my award letter, my mother developed a chronic illness and has had to reduce her work hours by roughly 75%. In addition, our family has spent significant money on her medical bills. My mother earned almost half of our household income and between her reduced income and medical expenses, we no longer have the funds available to cover costs such as outstanding tuition, books, and living expenses.
Despite this unexpected challenge, I sincerely want to move forward with my plans to attend [insert school] this fall. I'm requesting the school review my award in light of my family’s new circumstances.
I have attached related records including my mother’s most recent paystubs, our monthly medical expenses, and the school’s financial aid appeal form. If you have any questions or would like more information, please don’t hesitate to call or e-mail.
I truly appreciate your help. Thank you for taking the time to review my appeal.
Appeal reason: Parent’s loss of job
Dear Ms. Hopkins,
I’m Ben Brown, an incoming freshman, and I'm very much looking forward to attending [insert name of college] this fall. Thank you for the detailed financial aid package. After my application was accepted, my family has, unfortunately, experienced an extreme setback in our financial situation.
Shortly after receiving my award information, my father lost his job. After 30 years at The Widget Factory he was unexpectedly let go. He was our family's main source of income. My mother remains employed, but she works part-time at a minimum-wage retail job. Consequently, we are now unable to provide the additional funds I'll need for outstanding tuition, books, and expenses.
It is my sincere wish to attend college this fall, and that is in jeopardy now. I'm requesting a review of my award with consideration of these new, extenuating circumstances. Your help is greatly appreciated, and I thank you for taking the time to review my appeal.
Attached please find confirmation of my father's termination, as well as the required financial aid appeal form from your office. If there is anything else I can provide or any questions I can answer for you, please do not hesitate to call or e-mail me. I will respond promptly.
Appeal reason: Eviction/foreclosure (or similar short-term crisis)
Dear Mr. Ramirez,
I’m looking forward to attending [insert name of college] this fall and was extremely proud to have been awarded the schools Merit Scholarship of $x,xxx. Unfortunately, even with the generous aid package [College] has offered, the amount I would have to pay to attend is significantly higher than my anticipated total cost to attend State U or Rival College and is currently outside my family’s reach.
Like many families, we’ve been significantly impacted by the recent economic recession. Since my initial application, my family has been [evicted/foreclosed] from our home. As you can imagine, this has been a stressful time and we have been working hard to get in a better situation. In addition, the wages from my part-time job, as well as funds my parents had hoped to contribute to my college expenses, have had to go toward extra living expenses we couldn’t have anticipated.
I’m still eager to enroll at [College] this fall, and it remains my first choice because [explain why – the quality of the program you’ll be attending, it’s close to your family home, etc.] But I’m concerned I will not be able to afford it. I’m asking the committee to please review my award given the change in my family’s circumstances.
As outlined in the school’s appeal process, I’ve included copies of records relevant to the [eviction/foreclosure] and our current finances. I’m also including copies of the merit awards I received from two other colleges. Their awards ranged averaged $xx,xxx and the total cost of attending them ranges from $xx,xxx to $xx,xxx.
Please let me know if you’d like any more information. I appreciate your time and attention.
Appeal reason: Unusual circumstances
Dear Mrs. Dawson,
I’m excited to enroll in [insert name of college] this fall and have been working diligently to make sure I have everything in place to do so.
I appreciate the generous financial aid package the college has offered me, but even with the award, I still have a significant gap between my anticipated costs and what my family and I can contribute. I’m requesting a review of my award because I believe my financial aid application may not have accurately conveyed certain circumstances that limit my family’s ability to contribute as much to my education as they’d like to.
While my parents make solid middle-class incomes, they have significant expenses not entirely reflected on the FAFSA form. My parents are struggling to pay down significant debt. In the past year, they helped pay medical bills for my young niece who was born with a significant disability. My parents and I also provide care for both my niece and my elderly grandmother, which has limited my ability to take an after-school job to help pay for college.
[College] remains my top choice, because I feel its academic program is the one best-suited to my needs and is an environment in which I could thrive. My hope is that an adjustment to my financial aid can make it a more realistic possibility for me to attend.
I’ve included relevant records, including a breakdown of my family’s monthly debt payments and the expenses we pay toward caregiving for my niece and grandmother. If you have any questions or would like more information, please let me know.
I appreciate your assistance in this matter and hope to continue my academic career at [College].
Appeal reason: Missed academic requirements
Dear Ms. Ziewiecki
I’m writing to request an appeal for the loss of my financial aid. I understand the school requires a GPA of 3.0 to continue aid and my average dropped to 2.75. That is my responsibility and I’m working hard to bring my grades back up. I hope that you will consider the extraordinary circumstances I faced last year which contributed to my reduced academic performance.
Five months ago, I was in a serious car accident. While at first my injuries seemed minor —I was diagnosed with only a broken arm the night of the crash — in the following weeks, I had significant difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping. Eventually, I was diagnosed with a minor concussion as well as post-traumatic stress, both resulting from the crash.
As you can imagine, these circumstances made it very difficult for me to focus on my studies as I had previously. I have spent considerable effort in the past few months to get healthy again and feel that I am more than up to the task of bringing my GPA back up above a 3.0.
I’ve enclosed the required appeal form from the college web site, as well as a letter from my doctor and relevant medical records.
I’m grateful for the generous aid the college has already granted me — I don’t know if I could attend [College] without it. Given the circumstances, my hope is that the financial aid committee can make an exception and continue my financial aid for an additional semester so I can prove that I’m capable of continuing my academic career at the same level I had been before this unfortunate accident.
Please let me know if you need any further information or if I can answer any questions as you consider my request. Thank you for your time.
If you need to follow up
Give the office at least two weeks to respond — college financial aid offices are busy places most of the year, and if the economy is difficult, they're likely to be dealing with more appeal letters than usual.
After those two weeks, send an email to the person to whom you initially wrote. Keep it short, polite, and professional. That gets your request top of their mind again, without wasting their time. You should also include a copy of your original letter just in case it got lost along the way.
A sample follow-up email:
Dear Ms. Jones,
I’m following up on the financial aid appeal request I sent to you on [date]. For your convenience, I’ve attached my original letter and documentation to this message. Please let me know if you need any additional information or if I can answer any questions you may have. Thank you for consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Reminder: These are samples. Feel free to mix and match ideas from each letter, depending on your specific circumstances, but please revise the wording to fit your specific situation. It’s less important to use a specific phrase and more important to be authentic. You want it to sound like you wrote it.