How to Get a Better Financial Aid Offer – GradPlan


How to Get a Better Financial Aid Offer

Why you should appeal your financial aid award and how you could get more money

A Financial Aid Award letter from a college or university is just an offer, it is perfectly fine to ask them to reconsider your application and to seek out more funds for your financial aid package.

It doesn’t hurt to ask

The goal of every college is to increase their enrollment, so they want you on their campus. That means you have some leverage when you are talking to a college about your financial aid award offer. It also shows the college you are genuinely considering attending their school when you go back to them and appeal (ask for a second review) your award letter, so it is in their best interest to try to work with you.

Check out our information below for how you can appeal your aid.

Reasons to appeal an award letter:

It is a good practice in general to go back to the college you want to attend and ask for any additional financial aid that may be available, but in some cases it actually is recommended. Here are examples of when you can file an appeal for more financial aid:

  • You got a better offer from a rival college or university – This is common. Share the details of the higher award offer with the other colleges who have accepted you to see if they can match it or do better.
  • Your family’s financial situation has significantly changed – Initial award offers are based on nearly two-years old tax data you submitted on your FAFSA. It is very possible that your family’s income has changed since then, sometimes, unfortunately for the worse. Some common factors include: a family member lost a job; there was a divorce or separation; or, the household got bigger (new baby, an elderly family member moved in, etc.)
  • A significant traumatic event has impacted your family – This could include a natural disaster, a medical catastrophe or the effect of a criminal event (robbery, identity theft, etc.). You will need documentation to support this claim, so be prepared to share evidence with the college.
  • This is your dream college – Absent of any of the above three possibilities, it is perfectly fine to let your #1 choice college know that you are really passionate about their school, that it’s your top choice, but without more financial aid you won’t be able to attend. It’s a stretch since anyone could say just this, but it’s possible that the right ask at the right time with the right financial aid advisor could lead to an additional grant or a work-study opportunity.

Remember!  Colleges want you on their campus, and financial aid officers are here to assist you. A positive, polite approach when requesting aid is key. Although they work within a budget, your financial aid officer can help uncover extra funds. Strive to maintain a good relationship with them as you’ll need to reapply yearly. They might secure more aid in the future!

How to appeal your award:

You should feel empowered to negotiate with financial aid officers to attempt to receive a better financial aid package. The college will not reduce the award you have already been given, so the worst that can happen is the financial aid officer could say no and leave you with that first offer. Here are some strategies for what to do.

Focus on reasonably explaining your situation as opposed to ranting.

People are more willing to help when they understand the perspective of someone who is calm and making a reasonable request. Make sure to prepare a list of compelling reasons for why you are appealing your aid and remain calm if the financial aid officer pushes back and follow up questions like “what would you advice is you’re in my shoe?”

Try to speak to the financial aid officer that has been assigned to you or someone who manages the department.

It’s helpful to speak to someone you’ve already built a connection with. It’s also a good idea to figure out who is in charge so you can speak directly to the decision maker.

Start your conversation with a question.

  • For example: “I am having a difficult time identifying how I will cover the remaining costs for attending your school. Can you explain to me why I received the award amounts that I did and how I may be able to get additional financial aid to cover my tuition gap?”

Consider presenting the college with a better offer you have received from another school.

If the school really wants you to attend, they may be willing to match the offer. Be prepared to share copies of other award packages.

Be sure to ask if you might qualify for any school-based scholarships, including scholarships specifically for minority or first-generation students (if these terms apply to you).

Financial aid officers often have scholarship money available that isn’t posted on an updated website. Always ask the financial aid office if there are additional scholarships available before you decide whether or not you can afford to attend that college.

If your GPA went up senior year, let the financial aid office know.

Even though you weren’t able to share your senior year grades when you applied, colleges do care about your most recent grades because it provides current evidence of your achievement and work ethic. If your GPA has gone up since you first applied, make sure to inform your financial aid officer.

If your SAI (Student Aid Index) is unrealistic and your family has an unique circumstance.

If your family is dealing with unexpected expenses (like hospital bills), or other hardships that were not apparent on your FAFSA, be sure to explain this to the financial aid officer. They may have the ability to override what was automatically calculated on your FAFSA. Be prepared to show documentation of these expenses or circumstances if the school requests proof of your situation. Read more about 2024-25 FAFSA resources for students with unusual circumstances here.

Script for Calling the Financial Aid Office

If you do end up calling the financial aid office, or connecting on Zoom, here’s a script sample to help you prepare:

Student: Hello, may I speak to Financial Aid Officer [financial aid officer’s last name]?

Financial Aid Officer: This is Financial Aid Officer [financial aid officer’s last name].

Student: I’m glad I was able to reach you. My name is [your name] and I currently attend [high school name] in [city]. [College name] has been my top choice school since I began searching for colleges. I recently received my financial aid award letter, and I am worried that I will not be able to cover the costs associated with your school. Can you help me identify additional options for assistance?

Financial Aid Officer: I definitely can. Let me find your award letter so we can discuss it.

Student: Okay, great, thank you.

Financial Aid Officer: Alright, I found your award letter. It looks like you have several grants, both subsidized and unsubsidized Direct loans, and work-study.

Student: Yes, and I have a remaining out-of-pocket cost of [amount]. My family is currently experiencing challenges with finances since we are paying for medical bills for my brother using my parents’ savings, which they might have been able to use to help pay for college.

Financial Aid Officer: I’m so sorry to hear that. I think that this could be an instance of extenuating circumstances that our office can review to determine how to best adjust your financial aid. Can you send copies of documentation of the medical bills and payments your parents are making to our office for us to review?

Student: Yes, can you share what’s the best way to share the documents with you? And, I will talk to my parents and share copies with you as soon as possible. Thank you very much.

Additional Resources

  • Use this Financial Aid Comparison Worksheet to do a side-by-side comparison of different financial aid packages to help you decide your best options available to you.
  • Swift Student is a free resource that provides letter templates and help in writing your financial aid appeal letter in a professional way.
  • ISACorps Mentor! – The Illinois Student Assistance Corps is a talented group of recent college graduates who are trained to serve as near peer mentors to high school students across Illinois. These mentors have specifically been trained on FAFSA and verification.
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Financial Aid

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Malcolm X, human rights activist