If you’re a high-school senior who has been admitted to a few different colleges for this fall (congratulations!), it’s likely that right now you’re trying to decide where to commit. Of course, there are many factors you want to consider as you make your decision, and your financial aid package should be near the top of your list. In this post, you’ll learn how to assess your financial aid package and (if necessary) how to appeal that package with greater success. 

How to Evaluate Your Financial Aid Package

When evaluating your financial aid package, you want to make sure that you’re not just comparing the amount of grants and scholarships you received from each school. You want to subtract that free money from the overall cost of attendance at your prospective colleges to find each school’s “net cost.” You may find that this net cost is still prohibitively high, or that your top choice is going to cost significantly more than a second or third choice school. In these situations, you may want to appeal your financial aid package. In that case, keep reading!

How to Appeal a Financial Aid Package (and do it well!)

Yes, you can appeal a financial aid package. But, just asking for more money is rarely going to yield positive results. A lot of families’ first instinct is to tell one college that another college is going to cost significantly less, and to then ask for them to match that price. This request alone usually isn’t enough to get more money. This may only work when two colleges are competitors. If Amherst College sees an opportunity to win over a talented student from Williams College, they may be inclined to match Williams’ package; however, Amherst won’t be as moved if your cheaper financial aid package is at UMass-Boston, which is not viewed as a peer school.

So what can successfully move the needle? Here are three things to consider when trying to craft a successful appeal of your college financial aid package.

1 – Have your expenses increased? When re-evaluating a package, financial aid offices will look for an increase in expenses. When you filled out the FAFSA, you used your 2018 financial numbers. If, over 2019, you had to start caring for an ailing grandparent or there were medical bills not covered by health insurance, then these are critical expenses that a family should not be expected to bypass in favor of college tuition. This will raise your level of need. Many schools ask for The College Board’s CSS Profile in addition to the FAFSA; the CSS Profile covers these types of critical expenses, so evidence of any increase would need to be shown after you originally submitted the CSS Profile. Or, maybe you forgot to record a critical expense on the CSS Profile and need to make a note of this in your appeal letter. Any time there’s new information, a financial aid office will consider it.

2 – Has your income decreased? Less income may also be cause for a successful reconsideration of your financial aid. This is particularly salient right now, with millions of people being laid off or seeing their hours cut. If your family has seen a decrease in income from the 2018 numbers that were reported on the FAFSA or the 2019 numbers used on the CSS Profile, then let the financial aid offices know. 

3 – Submit your appeal in writing. Yes, you should submit your appeal the old-fashioned way — in writing, either snail mail or fax. Having a signed letter that requests an appeal means that the financial aid office has to give you an official response within a few weeks. This is a better means of getting a thorough re-evaluation, as opposed to a phone call or casual email.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of schools that cannot meet all of a student’s financial needs. These schools may agree that your need has risen, but they may be unable to do anything to help. If that is the case, consider asking the admissions office for an appeal of your merit scholarship (just keep in mind that these are more rarely granted than a need-based appeal). 

In my 10+ years in the College Admissions space, I’ve seen successful appeals and unsuccessful ones. 

Either way, make sure that you haven’t left any stone unturned in garnering the best possible financial situation for you, as you make your final college decisions. Good luck!

Looking for more information on understanding financial aid awards? Listen to this College Admissions Decoded podcast episode from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling.