Writing a Financial Aid Appeal Letter Step by Step

Updated: March 15, 2024

Advertising & Editorial Disclosure

Changes can occur after filing for student aid and receiving your financial aid offer. New circumstances might affect your ability to pay for college — the college might not fully recognize your financial needs, or the aid offered could be insufficient. While your financial aid award letter outlines the aid you're eligible for, it might fall short of your actual needs. Writing a financial aid appeal letter can be an option to address this gap. A well-written appeal of a financial assistance letter can make your education more affordable, expanding access to academic resources and opportunities.

When to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

Submitting a financial aid appeal is a request to re-evaluate your financial aid package. It's possible to appeal for more financial aid at any stage — before applying, after applying, in the middle of an academic year or at any point during your college tenure.

The most effective time to appeal is immediately after a special circumstance arises. Prompt appeals are more likely to result in favorable outcomes. Remember that financial aid appeals are typically valid for one academic year. If your special circumstances persist, you must submit a new appeal for each subsequent year.

The following are scenarios that commonly warrant an appeal:

    family icon

    Changes in Family Income

    This includes job loss, reduced work hours or unexpected costs like caring for a family member.

    injury icon

    Medical Emergencies

    An unforeseen medical situation leading to substantial out-of-pocket expenses can be a valid reason for an appeal.

    uninsured icon

    Errors in the Initial Application

    An appeal is necessary if you need to correct information after submission. Common errors might be:

    • Incorrect reporting of income or assets
    • Failing to report the correct number of siblings attending college
    • Overlooking significant expenses
    • Not accounting for special circumstances affecting your financial capacity
    vsDocuments icon

    Competitive Appeals

    If you receive a more favorable aid package from another school, you can request your current school to review their offer. Also known as a "competitive appeal," you should approach these reconsiderations with tact and clear justification.

Starting the Financial Aid Appeal Process

The financial aid appeal process is relatively straightforward. It involves contacting the financial aid office, drafting a sincere and well-founded appeal letter, submitting the necessary documentation and following up. Consider starting when you receive your initial award of financial assistance, as this process is often time-sensitive. Here are the first steps to take when appealing for more financial aid:

Contact the Financial Aid Office Early

Reach out to the school's financial aid office via email or phone to understand their appeals process. Inquire about contact persons, special requirements and deadlines. This initial communication provides vital information on institutional policies and specific requirements, ensuring your appeal starts correctly. They can offer forms and advice to assist your appeal. Consider asking the following questions to streamline your appeal:

  • What are the major deadlines for appeals?
  • What specific forms are necessary for an appeal?
  • Who is the best point of contact during the appeals process?
  • What factors does the office consider when reviewing an appeal?
  • How do special circumstances affect the appeal review?

The appeal process may vary in name (like professional judgment review or special circumstances review) and structure across colleges. Some institutions may require a specific form addressing common situations and an appeal letter.

Identify Your Special Circumstances

The core of your appeal is identifying the special circumstances that affect your ability to pay for college. These are the reasons for seeking additional aid. Focus on genuine needs rather than desires. Remember, simply wanting more money is not a valid reason for an appeal. Your special circumstances should clearly explain why additional financial support is necessary.

How to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

A successful financial aid appeal letter should have well-defined needs, solid reasoning and appropriate documentation. Be specific when explaining your appeal, using real-life examples to convey urgency and uniqueness. Such details help the financial aid office understand your situation better.

Support your appeal with documented evidence, such as tax returns, unemployment stubs or medical bills, to substantiate your financial need. Try to write the appeal yourself. While it may seem easier to have a parent write it, a letter in your own words will make a more substantial impact. When crafting your letter, consider these universal tips:

Address the Correct Contact Person

Ensure you address your letter to a specific individual in the financial aid office. Find a contact name on the school's website and address them personally in your letter (e.g., Mr. John Doe, Mrs. Smith). This step sets a respectful and personal tone. Avoid generic titles and strive for direct, succinct and courteous language.

Articulate Your Request Clearly

Begin your letter by stating precisely what you need, such as more grant funding or adjustments to your aid package. Avoid vague statements like "I didn't get enough financial aid." Explain your circumstances and why you need additional aid.

Detail Specific Circumstances for Your Appeal

Clearly articulate the specific reasons or events that have impacted your financial situation using real-life scenarios. If your family's financial situation has changed due to job loss or unexpected medical bills, your letter should clearly state these.

Be Courteous and Direct

Remember, the financial aid administrator is your final point of appeal. Respect this authority and close your letter with gratitude for their consideration. Express your request politely and clearly. Familiarize yourself with the school's appeal process and follow it closely to improve your chances of a favorable outcome.

Sample Appeal Letters

Ensure you express each component of your letter effectively. You can craft an impactful financial aid appeal letter by tailoring your communications and providing clear evidence. Consider the following example:

Effective Examples
Ineffective Examples

"I am writing to request a review of my financial aid package due to a significant decrease in my family income."

"I'm struggling financially and need more help."

"My mother lost her job due to the pandemic, resulting in a 60% decrease in our family income. I have attached her termination notice for your reference."

"Our family income has reduced drastically."

"Due to unexpected medical bills totaling $15,000, we found it difficult to meet the projected family contribution. I have enclosed copies of the medical bills."

"We had some unexpected expenses this year."

"Attached are copies of my parent's unemployed status, medical bills and tax returns."

"I don’t have any paperwork but trust me, we need help."

Tips for Writing an Effective Appeal Letter

Consider the following tips to boost the likelihood of success for your appeal letter:

    signupBonus icon

    Mindful Word Choice and Tone

    Keep your letter balanced between humility and assertiveness. For example, use "reconsider" instead of "negotiate." The tone should reflect a respectful request, not a negotiation.

    takingNotes icon

    Brevity and Clarity

    Limit your letter to one page. Be concise and to the point, ensuring every word serves a purpose.

    financialPlanning icon

    Supporting Documentation

    Strengthen your appeal with relevant documents like tax returns, medical bills or job termination notices. This tangible evidence validates your claim.

    laptop icon

    Utilize a Writing Tool

    Consider using SwiftStudent, a free tool offering templates for various circumstances. It simplifies writing the appeal letter, although it generally assumes only one special circumstance per appeal.

What to Avoid When Writing an Appeal Letter

Avoid common pitfalls that might weaken your appeal, such as attempting to negotiate or flouting the financial aid office's guidelines, which can lead to an unsuccessful appeal. The following are common mistakes to keep in mind when writing an appeal letter:

Treating the Process Like a Negotiation

Your appeal letter isn't the platform for bartering. Stick to explaining your financial situation objectively. Attempts to negotiate may give the impression that you lack focus on the numeric realities of your situation.

Ignoring Financial Aid Office Guidelines

Each institution may have specific protocols for how to appeal; being inattentive to these may lead to the administration disregarding your appeal. Neglecting the guidelines handed by the financial aid office can suggest a lack of seriousness.

Making Blanket Statements Without Benefits

Be specific. Ground your claims in facts and figures. Unsupported blanket statements can harm your credibility. Sticking to factual evidence and clear, credible explanations will enhance your chances of a successful appeal.

Writing With Poor Structure and Grammar

Ensure your letter is coherent, legible and free of grammatical errors. Poor structure and grammar can call into question your attention to detail.

Following Up After Submitting an Appeal Letter

After submitting your financial aid appeal, the next step is to monitor your appeal's progress. This helps you stay informed about any developments or additional requirements. Below are key considerations for your follow-up process:

Schedule a Follow-Up

Wait one to two weeks after submission before following up. This gives the financial aid office adequate time to process your appeal.

Communicate Respectfully

Remember, your appeal is a request. Approach the financial aid office with respect and courtesy. This attitude can positively impact how they respond to your appeal.

Check-In Regularly

Periodic and polite communication shows your commitment and emphasizes the importance of their decision in your educational journey. It conveys your earnest interest in their response.

Choose the Right Communication Method

Use email or phone calls for follow-up. These methods are direct and effective. Additionally, check if your institution offers an online portal for tracking appeal status, which can provide regular updates and save you from needing to reach out directly.

Explore Other Financial Aid Sources

When a financial aid appeal is approved, adjustments are made to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) data elements. This leads to a new Student Aid Index (SAI), which determines your demonstrated financial need based on the difference between the cost of attendance and the new SAI. Consequently, this recalculates your financial aid package.

However, if your appeal is unsuccessful, it's not the end of your journey. There are other sources of funding and cost-effective educational paths available. Explore different funding options and consider more budget-friendly educational alternatives. The following are ways to broaden your financial options and retain flexibility in your academic pursuits.


Scholarships are awarded based on criteria like academic excellence, specific talents or affiliations with certain groups. Websites such as Fastweb and Scholarships.com offer a comprehensive database of scholarships, helping you find ones that match your profile and interests.


Like scholarships, you generally don't have to repay grants, and they are often based on financial need. The FAFSA is your starting point to discover federal and state grants. The FAFSA application evaluates your eligibility for federal grants, providing need-based aid that doesn't require repayment.

Work-Study Programs

These federally funded programs offer part-time employment to students in financial need, helping them earn money for educational expenses. Work-study positions are often related to your course of study or community service and provide a practical way to finance your education.

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans, available through the federal government, often offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private loans. They can be subsidized, where the government pays the interest while you're in school or unsubsidized.

Private Student Loans

Banks, credit unions and other financial institutions offer private student loans. Unlike federal loans, they're not based on financial need and typically require a credit check. Private loans often have higher interest rates and less favorable repayment terms than federal loans. They should be considered only after exploring scholarships, grants and federal loan options. Compare different lenders to find the best rates and terms.

Affordable College Options

Choosing these alternative college options can still lead to successful educational outcomes. Here are some alternatives to consider:

    highschoolStudent icon

    Community Colleges

    These institutions often offer significantly lower tuition rates, allowing you to afford to complete your general education requirements before transferring to a four-year college. Known for their affordability, community colleges can be a solid start to a college degree. Credits are often transferable to four-year institutions.

    studentWithALoan icon

    In-State Public Universities

    These schools offer reduced tuition for state residents, making them a cost-effective choice. Opting for an in-state public university can significantly reduce your tuition costs compared to private or out-of-state options.

    freelancer icon

    Online Programs

    These often carry lower costs, increased flexibility and permit study from home. These can be more affordable because of lower overhead costs. They offer flexibility, allowing you to study on your schedule and potentially continue working.

Additional Resources

Here are some resources to guide you through the financial aid appeal letter process:

About Nathan Paulus

Nathan Paulus headshot

Nathan Paulus is the Head of Content Marketing at MoneyGeek, with nearly 10 years of experience researching and creating content related to personal finance and financial literacy.

Paulus has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. He enjoys helping people from all walks of life build stronger financial foundations.