How to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

If your application for financial aid was denied or your financial aid offer was lower than you hoped it would be, the first step in figuring out whether you should appeal the decision is finding out the reason for your denied or reduced award.  The next step, if you decide to appeal, should be to write an appeal letter, as most schools require this letter as a first step in the appeal process.

Strong financial aid appeal letters:

  • are written in a standard block format and, if possible, are addressed to a particular person in your school’s financial aid office.  (You can often find out to whom your financial aid appeal letter should be addressed on your school’s website.)
  • include the relevant information about which financial aid forms you submitted to your school and when and what the status of your award is (i.e., how much of what type of funds you were offered, if any).
  • use straightforward language and a respectful tone.  Financial aid appeal letters are not the place for you to express your frustration, or worse, your anger at being denied funds for school.  Your goal is to convince the financial aid officers at your school to review your case, and the best way to do so is to state your case clearly, respectfully, and honestly.  It is also a good idea to thank the financial aid counselors for taking the time to consider reviewing your case.
  • include specific documents that support your case and show you taking responsibility for any mistakes you may have made that led to the current situation (primarily relevant to letters of appeal that address poor academic progress).

The Economic Setback Appeal

If you are writing to appeal your financial aid award because you or your family have experienced an economic setback since you filed your FAFSA, explain in clear and straightforward language how your circumstances have changed and why.  Some examples of reasons for economic setbacks are: job loss, major medical events (catastrophic illness or injury), or divorce/end of child support payments.  Include specific dollar amounts in your explanation and, if possible, include supporting documents that provide evidence for these changed circumstances (such as letters of termination of employment, medical documents, etc.).

The Misleading Income Amount Appeal

Sometimes the income reported on your FAFSA does not accurately convey you or your family’s ability to pay for your college expenses for reasons other than economic setbacks.  Some examples are: one-time (non-repeating) bonuses or cash awards during the tax year leading up to your FAFSA filing, a high debt-to-income ratio (where much of your income is going to pay off debt and therefore not available to pay for school expenses), or a significant amount of income that cannot be used for school expenses (such as money held in trust).  In this scenario, you should include specific dollar amounts in your explanation and include supporting documents that illustrate the reason for the discrepancy between your reported income and the funds you have available for school expenses.

The Poor Academic Progress Appeal

If your financial aid was denied based on your not having met the academic progress standards set by your school, your appeal letter will need to clearly explain what prevented you from achieving the grades you should have.  Some reasons for poor academic progress might be: a newly diagnosed mental or other chronic illness, a change in life circumstances (e.g., temporary homelessness or sudden change of residence; difficult pregnancy/birth), or the death of someone in your immediate family or someone else very close to you.  As with the letters of appeal for economic reasons, letters that appeal financial aid decisions based on poor academic progress should state your case as clearly and succinctly as possible, include supporting documents as evidence for your situation, and maintain a respectful tone and language.  (Also note: the financial aid appeal letter is not the place to make a case for a grade appeal.  If you believe your poor academic progress was the result of mistakes made in your grades, you should file a grade appeal, which could then be used as the basis for your financial aid appeal with your grade appeal included as a supporting document.)

The best advice for writing an appeal letter, in a nutshell?  Always frame your appeal as a request for help, not a demand for change, and always provide the information your school’s financial aid counselors need to fully understand your situation.