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How To Help Your Clients With Financial Aid Appeals

Negotiation is an art. 

Lawyers negotiate contracts, deals, and settlements on behalf of their clients, real estate agents negotiate housing prices for hopeful homeowners, business professionals negotiate the price of products and services to keep their doors open. Negotiation is a major player in nearly every aspect of modern society, so why do people think that college funding is exempt from this? 

We’ll let you in on a little secret: it isn’t. 

The price of college isn’t set in stone and neither is the financial aid that your clients received in the mail. If both you and the client feel that something needs to be altered, they can start the financial aid appeals process. Your clients will likely be quite overwhelmed by this, so our advice is to break it into small, manageable, and actionable steps to get them through it in one piece.

Let’s get started.

Get to their ‘why’

Before you can help your client with an appeal letter, you first have to be on the same page as to why they want to appeal in the first place. Below are a few questions to ask,

  • What were your client’s initial expectations for financial aid?
  • How far off is the aid package from those expectations?
  • Will an appeal letter help them get where they need to be financially?

There are many reasons for writing appeals but the main one is that the aid package was smaller than expected, throwing a wrench into your client’s financial plan for college. If after you examine the offers and think they have a case for an appeal start to formulate a game plan.

Let them know their options

Most likely your clients won’t have any idea that they can appeal the financial aid that they received. But as part of a comprehensive college plan, you can help them navigate the appeals process if it’s something that makes sense for them. 

When might an appeal letter be appropriate? If your client has,

  • Multiple offers: If the student has been accepted to a variety of colleges and has received a larger aid package, you can help them reach out to the other schools and see if they will match it.
  • More than one child attending college: Families with more than one student enrolling in college might have a better chance for more financial aid. 
  • Exceptional merit: Students with high GPAs, involvement in honor societies, and other volunteer activities could be eligible for more aid on the grounds of being an excellent addition to the campus/university. 
  • Unforeseen incident: While more broad, this could be anything from a loss of income to increased medical bills, to the death of a parent, or any other natural disaster. Should this befall your client, they would be eligible to appeal their aid package.
  • An error on their original document: If an error was made, you can help clients write an appeal to correct that error.   

As you can see, several scenarios warrant writing and sending in a financial aid appeal letter. This is an important step in the college planning process and one that can be extremely beneficial to your clients in the long run. The important thing here is that your clients know that this is an option for them and that you clearly walk them through the process. 

Help set-up a timeline

Once your client knows that they want to start the appeals process, you will need to help them create a timeline for writing and sending in the letter. There are a few key points to keep in mind. 

  • The earlier the better: Schools don’t have a well of financial aid that they can dip into to fulfill every request, so your client must send in an appeal letter as soon as possible. This can be done as you are working with them to analyze the offer letters. As soon as you both see a discrepancy, start walking through options for appeals.  
  • Call ahead: Each school’s appeals process will look slightly different. Call the Financial Aid Office to make sure you have the right email or physical address to send the letter as well as the correct contact information. 
  • Don’t forget about supporting documents: Is your client trying to appeal based on their child’s merit? In this case, you want to make sure your client attaches their transcripts, honor societies, merit-based awards, etc. The more information you can provide to support your client’s claim, the better chance they will have.

Timelines for hearing back vary based on each institution, but most appeals will be responded to within 4-6 weeks. 

Provide a blueprint for writing the letter

Once you work with the client to devise a strategy, you will need to help them make their case in the appeals letter. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Keep it short and sweet
  • Be honest and authentic
  • Provide adequate supporting documentation
  • Have a clear ask (list the exact amount your client is looking for)
  • Ensure the writing is clear, concise, and grammatically correct.

Financial aid is a crucial component of your client’s college plan. To maximize it, you might need to help them through the financial aid appeals process. 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. 

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