Appealing Your Financial Aid Award

What to Do When Your FAFSA Amount Isn’t Enough

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) allows candidates to apply for several forms of financial aid, including grants, loans, and work-study awards. On the FAFSA, applicants provide their personal and family income, marital status, and potential schools in which they’d like to enroll — details which may influence the amount of offered aid. For instance, a dependent, unmarried freshman with no children may earn less financial aid than an independent graduate student with three children.

However, the FAFSA’s scope may not cover a special circumstance that impacts a student’s finances, which may lead to insufficient financial aid. In this situation, students can submit an appeal for a higher award to their school’s financial aid department.

Can You Appeal Your Financial Aid Award Amount?

Congress gives financial aid administrators the authority to review an applicant’s information and determine a need for aid beyond the originally offered amount. This need should stem from an issue or special situation not covered on the FAFSA. Since each school’s process differs, students enduring one of these circumstances should contact financial aid departments to learn how to begin an appeal. In general, however, applicants submit a letter detailing the situation and documentation to verify claims.

Financial aid departments decide if a student’s situation merits further aid, but they must abide by federal aid guidelines. Nearly 99% of appeal applicants do not earn additional aid, so students should also pursue alternative methods of paying for college.

The conditions on the following list exemplify the special circumstances mentioned above. Students should consult financial aid departments to determine other issues that may merit further aid.

  • Recent Unemployment
    Candidates who lose their jobs after submitting a FAFSA can appeal on the basis of this income change, but they may need to provide evidence of employment loss.
  • Homelessness
    Homelessness means an individual does not possess a personal housing space. This definition includes people who live with family or friends, or in homeless shelters. Candidates entering this situation after a FAFSA submission may appeal their award.
  • Income Change
    Acceptable income changes include lower earnings for students or parents (for dependent learners) and losses of personal assets. Unforeseen events, such as a parent’s death, may also impact family income.
  • Medical Expenses
    A student who pays out-of-pocket for medical treatments may qualify for appeal.
  • Childcare Costs
    Student parents may appeal for additional aid if their childcare costs hinder educational pursuits. However, candidates may need to submit evidence that the cost is higher than normal.

Is a Financial Aid Appeal Different Than a Change to Your FAFSA Form?

Changing the FAFSA form means altering information for accuracy, verification, or status updates. Students can make FAFSA modifications without help by correcting a student aid report (SAR) or submitting an updated FAFSA online.

Appealing for more financial aid means contacting a financial aid administrator to request assistance beyond the originally offered amount. A financial aid overseer must approve an appeal, and school policies may insist students submit a letter and documents that prove special circumstances. Essentially, an appeal requires more effort from the applicant and more involvement from the financial aid department.

What Corrections Can You Make to the FAFSA?

Students make FAFSA corrections to resolve errors like wrong Social Security numbers or addresses. A FAFSA update revises the application to reflect the student’s current situation regarding household size and dependency status. Learners can make changes for either issue online, by mail, or by consulting a financial aid administrator.

Incorrect Social Security Number

Students who supply an incorrect social security number on their FAFSA may correct the issue on the SAR or request that a school from their SAR list address the misinformation. However, the U.S. Department of Education suggests filling out a new FAFSA to resolve the issue.

Mistakes on the Form

Candidates should choose the “make FAFSA corrections” option online after they’ve logged on with their federal student aid identification (FSA ID). From there, students can find the mistake, alter the information, and re-submit the form. Learners may also request that schools change the information or fix the error on their SAR before returning the form.

What Updates Can You Make to the FAFSA?

A FAFSA should represent a student’s situation on the day of their application. For this reason, learners should only update certain FAFSA sections beyond contact information and only in specific circumstances, such as verification. If unsure, candidates should ask their financial aid departments about updating the following sections.

Your Dependency Status

Several factors determine a student’s dependency status, including birthday and military service. Additionally, losing both parents, getting married, caring for dependents, or having children can make a student independent, based on when these changes occur. For instance, getting married after submitting a FAFSA does not necessarily lead to independent status. Candidates should consult financial aid departments for assistance in determining status.

Number of People in Your Household

Students should count themselves as members of the household, but other additions are contingent on factors such as financial contributions and dependency status. Learners should ask financial aid departments for guidance on deciding household size. Only learners undergoing verification should alter this FAFSA detail.

Number of College Students in Your Household

In addition to the applicant, siblings may count as household college students, but only under certain conditions, such as a minimum of half-time status. Additionally, parents may count, but only with the approval of a financial aid overseer. Learners should ask financial aid departments for information, and should only alter this FAFSA section if selected for verification.

How to Update Your FAFSA Form

Students may update certain FAFSA elements by logging on the site with their FSA ID and choosing the “make FAFSA corrections” option. Candidates can then alter contact information, as well as dependency status for changes that do not relate to marriage. Applicants should leave the majority of the FAFSA unchanged since the document reflects a learner’s situation at first submission.

Students can consult a financial aid administrator to determine if a FAFSA needs updating. Additionally, learners with marital changes should reach out to financial aid departments to determine how the change impacts dependency status.

Candidates can also make corrections on the SAR or ask financial aid departments to update a FAFSA. FAFSA deadlines vary by state, so applicants should research state requirements to ensure punctual submission.

How to Appeal Your Financial Aid Award

Appeal processes vary among schools, with institutions requiring specific forms, documents, and verification. For this reason, candidates should contact financial aid departments to determine schools’ policies and preferred steps. Since students receive many forms of financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis, applicants should complete and return all appeal elements as soon as possible.

Departments approve appeals one year a time, so a student may need to submit an appeal every year to continue earning additional aid. However, departments may require documentation to prove that the special circumstance that impacted the student’s finances still applies.

  • STEP 1

    Assess Your Circumstances

    Again, special situations qualify for gaining more financial aid, such as a change in college-attending household members, divorce, and disability. Students should determine if any of these circumstances apply, but they should note that financial aid departments may examine appeal letters on a case-by-case basis to make an official determination. Candidates can find guidance on these matters online, or they can ask financial aid departments for information to determine if their situations qualify for appeal.

  • STEP 2

    Contact the School’s Financial Aid Department

    Each school requires steps for filing financial aid appeals. For instance, institutions may insist learners submit a satisfactory academic progress appeal form, or they may only recognize special circumstances that occur after a particular date. For information on the appeal process, candidates should contact their school’s financial aid department by exploring the department’s website, visiting the financial aid office, or contacting the department by phone or email.

  • STEP 3

    Collect Needed Documentation

    Financial aid departments may insist on your providing documents that verify special circumstances, including evidence of unemployment benefits or medical bills. Additionally, candidates can provide signed statements from social workers, police officers, and school faculty that confirm the special circumstance. These statements should also explain how this issue causes a need for additional assistance. Students may contact their school’s financial aid department to determine necessary documents.

  • STEP 4

    Write an Appeal Letter, If Needed

    Most schools require an appeal letter that details reasons for needing more aid. These statements should address the special circumstance that impacts a candidate’s finances with exact information, such as specific dates and salary differences. Other institutions may not require letters, but applicants may still need to submit appeal forms and verification documents. Learners considering appeals should consult their financial aid departments for guidance on school policies.

  • STEP 5

    Submit Your Appeal

    Students can submit appeal information electronically, send appeals by mail, or deliver them in-person. Each school may prefer a different method, so applicants should ask financial aid departments for guidance. Applicants may call, email, or visit the financial aid office after submitting appeals to see if the department requires additional documentation. The time needed to process and review appeals may vary among schools, but in general, candidates can expect a decision in less than one month.

Tips for Writing an Appeal Letter

Most colleges and universities depend on appeal letters for explanations and evidence of students’ financial need. These documents can become deciding factors as to whether or not candidates earn additional aid. For this reason, applicants should polish their letters to ensure every detail reads clearly, professionally, and accurately.

  • Be Direct
    Financial aid departments work with thousands of students every year. When submitting a FAFSA appeal letter, candidates should write concisely while delivering all necessary details. This strategy ensures the department can consider the appeal in a timely fashion and quickly move on to assist other students.
  • Have the Information Ready
    Assembling necessary documents allows students to use exact information in appeal letters and provides financial aid departments with documentation. For instance, a candidate can reference specific financial changes based on gathered information and then attach the documents to the letter for department verification. This strategy can shorten the appeal’s processing time since departments do not need to wait for further documents.
  • Determine the Numbers
    Students who prove financial need may stand a better chance of earning extra funds. For this reason, candidates should outline expenses and income to verify that the initial amount falls short. Furthermore, to encourage additional funds, students should mention any school that presented a more substantial financial aid award and cite exact monetary amounts.
  • Gain Familiarity with Policies and Staff Names
    This step allows students to address faculty members by name and ensures candidates abide by school policies. Since the appeal process varies, this detail matters. For example, a college may require a specific appeal form, meaning students who only submit a letter would not earn additional funds.
  • Be Specific
    Students should state what type of aid they hope to receive from the appeal, such as federal or institutional. Furthermore, degree seekers should address concrete reasons for needing more aid, even if a personal misstep caused the financial dilemma. For instance, a learner who lost financial aid by earning low grades should admit this shortcoming.
  • Be Time-Conscious
    Candidates may receive some types of financial aid on a first-come, first-served schedule, so applicants should prepare appeal letters soon after receiving an insufficient offer. Additionally, learners should ask financial aid departments for tips on speeding up the appeal process, such as which documents to include with their letter.
  • Use a Professional Format
    Students should treat appeal letters as professional documents rather than casual notes, formatting with addresses, greetings, and block paragraphs. This choice indicates that learners take the appeal process and their education seriously. Candidates not using Microsoft Word can manually add in the appropriate letter sections.
  • Be Conscious of the Tone
    Learners should address points clearly and professionally, but in a respectful manner. Word choices can reflect these qualities. For example, instead of using “must have,” which can sound challenging, learners can say they “could use” or “need” additional funding. Remember that these letters deliver a request, not a demand.
  • Proofread
    Students should proofread letters for factual accuracy to ensure schools receive valid information. Additionally, candidates should review documents for spelling, grammar, and organizational structure. A letter with too many grammar errors may indicate that the student is not ready for college and may negatively impact the appeal decision.
  • Prepare a Secondary Plan
    Financial aid departments may reject appeals. To prepare for this possibility, candidates should explore other options to pay for their education. Tending to this task while waiting on an appeal decision can save time. For instance, students can research private loans, and then submit applications upon hearing a negative verdict.

What If Your Appeal Is Rejected?

Submitting an appeal does not guarantee additional funding since financial aid departments can reject applications. When rejected, candidates must explore other methods of paying for college or manage educational expenses out-of-pocket. For external assistance, students can look toward employers, private companies, and organizations related to their majors.

  • Private Loans
    Students can apply for private loans from companies such as Citizens OneSunTrust, and Discover. However, they should keep in mind that these loans do not provide the same benefits as federal loans. For example, federal loans allow students a grace period after graduating and deliver interest rates that are often under 7%. Private loan companies can insist on less lenient terms, including interest rates over over 12% and no period of respite before repayment. Still, these loans may help with educational expenses that exceed federal funds.
  • Scholarships
    Candidates earn scholarships based on academic performance, extracurricular activities, ethnicity, personal history, religion, and college major. These funds come from colleges or universities, state funding, and private organizations. Like federal grants, scholarships do not typically require repayment. Processes to earn and maintain scholarships vary. For instance, one opportunity may require applicants to write an essay for one year of assistance, while another scholarship may only call for an application for multiple years of funding.
  • Tuition Reimbursement Plans
    Some companies agree to assist employees with college expenses. This process can take several forms. Companies may pay a percentage of tuition or the full amount. Additionally, students may need to pay tuition upfront, with the employer agreeing to reimburse the cost at a later date and under certain conditions. As examples, organizations may insist learners complete specific courses or maintain a strong GPA for reimbursement. Students should ask their employers for reimbursement options.
  • Part-Time Jobs
    Part-time jobs provide students with extra income to cover educational costs while allowing them free time to attend classes and complete coursework. This option works well with payment plans where learners divide expenses into monthly installments. Online learners may also find this opportunity appealing since virtual learning may not include specific class times, meaning candidates can complete assignments around work schedules to prevent any scheduling conflict.
  • Paid Internships
    Internships involve working at organizations for professional experience. Sometimes, these opportunities offer pay that learners can apply toward tuition, fees, and textbooks. Departments may also allow internships to count for program credit, and future employers may look favorably on candidates with the real-world experience of an internship. These opportunities, then, provide financial, educational, and professional benefits. For best results, students should explore internship opportunities related to career goals. As an example, a journalism major can look for paid internships with newspaper or magazine companies.

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