This is a segment of Bautis Financial’s college planning series, which includes webinars, podcast episodes, blog posts and downloadables to aid college-bound students and families in the admissions process. Visit our college planning hub for more valuable resources.
It’s that time of the year… Many high school seniors are receiving their financial aid award packages, and making the exciting decision of where to attend college. What many don’t know is that the first financial award letter from an institution is not a “take it or leave it” situation – it’s an offer, which they have no obligation to accept. In fact, students can accept some of it and leave the rest, or they can appeal the award to see how much room there is for negotiation.
That said, the financial aid appeal process varies school to school, and there is no guarantee that your appeal will be approved. But there are steps you can take to improve your chances.
How to Determine if You’re a Good Candidate for Appeal
Most colleges will be more inclined to review a prospective student’s application if significant financial challenges have arisen, for either the student or their family. Examples include a recent loss or deduction in income, a household size change, a recent death in the family, a change of marital status, outstanding medical bills, etc.
While those who are facing significant financial challenges should definitely appeal a disappointing award, some schools will still entertain appeals without a solid financial reason.
Know When Chances of a Successful Appeal Increase
Whether or not a university will increase the amount of need-based aid, or boost a merit scholarship, can depend on how much the school wants a student. Generally speaking, a college is most likely to negotiate aid with student applicants that are exceptional candidates.
Another factor is how the college is faring with its freshmen deposits. If the freshman deposits are coming in too slow, a college might be more willing to sweeten an offer.
Not sure if appealing is the right move? Use the College Board’s search tool to learn about the average financial aid package awarded by each school you’re considering, which will give you a better picture of where you land.
How to Begin the Appeals Process
Start by emailing the school’s financial aid office to find out its appeals guidelines. The response you receive should provide guidance, including any special appeal requirements for the institution, and who to contact to move the process forward.
Most processes involve writing a letter, providing financial documentation, and meeting with a financial aid advisor.
Tips for Financial Aid Award Appeals
Once you decide to embark on the appeals process, follow these steps for a higher chance of success:
- Back Up Your Appeal with Details: Parents should be as detailed as possible when requesting greater awards. If a household has high medical bills, for instance, show proof.
- Be Specific: Figure out exactly how much additional aid you want, and put it in writing. The more specific you are, the more likely that the school will approve your appeal.
- Share Competing Offers: If a student has better offers from other schools, show them to the college you’re appealing to. It’s possible the school may match the offer, but again, have proof – offer to scan in other financial aid award letters.
- Ask How Your Home Equity Impacts the Award: Most colleges don’t include home equity in their aid calculations, but the majority of institutions that use the CSS Profile do. In those cases, parents can appeal the school’s use of their home equity, or at the very least ask the college to limit its impact.
- Be Proactive: If the financial aid application won’t adequately represent your financial situation, contact the school after your child has applied, and before you receive a financial aid award letter. While some college advisors recommend withholding this information until a financial package is given, others argue that it’s better to present the extenuating circumstances up front, when there are more financial aid dollars available.
- Be Careful: While negotiating for a better award, don’t antagonize the admission staffers by using the word “negotiate,” or come on too strong. Schools are not interested in being threatened or bullied, so treat the staff gingerly.
If the appeal is denied, and you’re left unsure if you can fund tuition at the college or university, it could be a good time to schedule a consultation with our team of financial advisors who offer support to all college-bound students and their families.