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Here’s how you can appeal your financial aid award for college

As a prospective college student, when you finally receive that financial aid award letter, it can be an amazing or disappointing feeling. Keep in mind that the offer is not set in stone.

Many college students, especially amid the pandemic, rely on financial aid awards from universities to cover the cost of their education. And if that offer doesn't match expectations, it can be appealed.

All students need to do is craft an aid appeal letter to request for more funding— i.e. ask for a "professional judgment" from a college's financial aid office. The school's aid officer will then review their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA forms, and make adjustments if necessary.

"When there are unusual situations or circumstances that impact your federal student aid eligibility, federal regulations give a financial aid administrator discretion or professional judgment on a case-by-case basis and with adequate documentation to make adjustments," the Federal Student Aid's website stated. "The Department of Education does not have the authority to override a school's professional judgment decision."

Americus, Georgia, USA - March 13, 2016:  Yard sign encouraging students to renew financial aid for next year, with the web site fafsa.gov.  Priority deadline of April 15th.  Sign placed on campus of Georgia Southwestern State University campus, a public university in Americas, Georgia, near the library.
Americus, Georgia, USA - March 13, 2016: Yard sign encouraging students to renew financial aid for next year, with the web site fafsa.gov. Sign placed on campus of Georgia Southwestern State University campus, a public university in Americas, Georgia, near the library.

To make that paperwork process a little smoother, SwiftStudent, a tech platform by the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation, created a free tool that includes templates for students who wish to make such appeals. 

Using the financial aid information made public by the federal government, the team at the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation sat down to "translate what the FSA handbook has about circumstances under which [appeal] is permissible," Abigail Seldin, CEO of SwiftStudent, told Cashay's sister site, Yahoo Finance.

The templates they ended up developing provide a guidepost for students to ask for more financial aid, explain why they are eligible for a bigger award, and also break down any recent changes in family income. 

Circumstances can include issues like a change in the student's household's finances (job loss or sudden loss in income), or divorce or separation of the dependent student's parents, or change in the student's martial status, and so on. 

Serious mixed race male student with serious face sitting at the deck in library and using laptop for school project.
(Photo: Getty Creative)

In focus group sessions with students, "almost all of them did not know that you could appeal your financial aid until we told them," Seldin. Especially students of color and first-generation students "don't know that college financial aid offers aren't final," said Seldin.

There's also a lot about what reasons can be used as justification for an appeal that students are also not aware of. "There's a long way to go" towards updating and notifying students about these issues, said Seldin, such as "how you can get your family's unreimbursed medical expenses to your college to get additional aid." 

But stats on how successful appeals have been historically are hard to come by. "It's not reported by anybody, and it's not collected by anybody," Seldin said. 

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Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.