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A Quick Guide To The Financial Aid Appeals Process

You can help your clients amend their financial aid package based on the student’s application or a change in the family’s situation. How? Through the appeal process. 

A financial aid appeal is a request for additional aid, a more lucrative offer, or a higher grant amount often spurred by a change in family circumstances. 

Colleges and universities are inundated with appeals from students whose families have fallen on hard economic times due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many families’ ability to pay for college has changed, and their aid package should change with it.  

If both you and your client feel that something needs to be altered, start the financial aid appeal process. Below is a simple guide to the world of financial aid appeals. 

Should your client appeal their financial aid offer?

In general, two broad categories could warrant an appeal:

  1. Exceptional merit/multiple offers
  2. Special or unusual circumstances

Your clients can appeal for more aid if they received better offers from other schools or if they have exceptionally high test scores. Most appeal letters, however, fall under the second category, especially in the past year. 

Special circumstances include job loss, salary reduction/loss of income, death of a parent, unreimbursed medical expenses, divorce/separation of student’s parents, serious illness, natural disaster, and more.

When would they submit an appeal?

Your client can submit an appeal at any time. It’s often best to start the process as soon as they experience a change in circumstances. If, for example, your client was furloughed in February, help them start the process as soon as they receive the formal letter or notice. 

It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of a semester or if school is out of session—the earlier your client files, the better.

How do they submit an appeal?

Each university has its own appeals process, making it critical to follow the specific system. Work with your client to contact the school’s financial aid office to discover whom to contact about the appeal, how to get in touch with them, and the requirements your client must meet.

As you help your client navigate this process, keep this one word top of mind—clarity. Conveying your client’s circumstances in a clear, concise, and specific language will only make their case stronger. 

Instead of stating simply that your client lost their job, be specific about how much income will be lost due to the layoff. Say, for example, their income has decreased by $5,000 since their last tax return, hindering their ability to pay for school.

All of their specific circumstances like income loss, health changes, and more should be detailed in an appeal letter. 

Best practices for an appeal letter

Once you and your client understand how the appeal process works at their specific school, you will need to help them make their case in an appeal letter. It’s important to get this letter right, so here are some best practices to keep in mind as they start writing.

  • Have the student submit the appeal. It is important for you and your client to remember that it is the student appealing for additional financial aid, not the parents. Of course, the parents need to provide much of the supporting documentation in many cases, but the best results come when the student is presenting their case.
  • Keep it short and sweet. A one-page letter is ideal.
  • Be honest and authentic. It’s critical to express your client’s circumstances indirect and persuasive language. Your client shouldn’t smudge or veil their situation, instead clearly express how their ability to pay for school has changed. Avoid vague language or overarching statements. 
  • Provide adequate supporting documentation. When it comes to your client’s appeal letter: document, document, document. Their specific circumstances need to be properly documented whether it’s a termination notice, tax documents, test scores, or other merit-based requests. Be sure to attach this documentation to the letter.
  • Ensure the writing is clear, concise, and grammatically correct. Now isn’t the time to push the envelope on writing style. Stick to traditional grammar rules and proofread the document so it’s free of errors. The last thing you want to do is misspell the school’s name when you’re appealing for more money. 

Why appeal?

The price of college isn’t set in stone and neither is the financial aid that your clients received in the mail. Your clients will likely be overwhelmed by the process, so break it into small, manageable, and actionable steps.

Financial aid is a crucial component of your client’s college plan. By being proactive about their aid package, you can help save your clients thousands of dollars, and may even allow them to take on one less loan. 

Proactive college planning is all about leveraging available resources to improve your client’s financial outlook. At College Aid Pro, we know that college planning can be complex. But our system is designed to help you walk your clients through it one step at a time. Our software makes it easy for advisors to engage in comprehensive college planning. Ready to see for yourself? Check out a free demo.

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