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How To Ask for More Financial Aid for College

Updated on:
Content was accurate at the time of publication.

If you don’t feel you’ve been given enough financial aid, you can always ask for more. Maybe your family’s finances have changed, or maybe you have a better offer from another school you can use to negotiate.

In such situations, you can submit an appeal letter requesting additional financial aid. Often, you will need to include documentation of your special circumstances and why you need more funds.

Although there’s no guarantee your appeal will be successful, it doesn’t hurt to try. Here is how to ask for more financial aid for college (and hopefully get it).

Financial aid decisions are made by your school based on the information provided in your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Fortunately, financial aid administrators can update your data if your situation merits more financial aid.

If you feel like your aid package isn’t sufficient, you can start an appeal process called professional judgment. Your school will review any special circumstances and how your financial situation has changed since you submitted your FAFSA. Ultimately, your school decides whether to offer you more money or not.

Here are the steps on how to ask financial aid for more money:

  1. Write a detailed financial aid appeal letter
  2. Include supporting documentation
  3. Mail your appeal
  4. Follow up

1. Write a detailed financial aid appeal letter

An appeal letter initiates the professional judgment review process. Your appeal may be needs-based, meaning your initial financial aid offer doesn’t cover your basic expenses. You could also appeal your merit-based aid, especially if you have a higher offer from another school.

A needs-based appeal looks at special circumstances regarding changes to your financial situation. This could include:

  • Lost household income or change in employment
  • Change in marital status or family size
  • Incurs extra expenses for a special needs child or elderly parent care
  • Death of a spouse or parent
  • Parent enrolls in college full time
  • No longer receiving child support
  • New health care costs not covered by insurance
  • Experienced a total loss due to a natural disaster

A merit-based appeal focuses on academic achievements. You could request more merit-based aid from your school if your grades have significantly improved since you submitted the FAFSA. Evidence of academic awards or additional letters of recommendation could help your case.

Another reason to submit a merit-based appeal is if you received a better offer from a competing school. Your appeal letter could state that you’ll enroll if the college matches the other school’s offer. This strategy typically only works if the other offer comes from a direct competitor.

2. Include supporting documentation

The Department of Education reviews these professional judgment appeals when they audit colleges. They want confirmation that any increases in financial aid came from a request backed by third-party documentation.

If auditors don’t see valid documentation of why an appeal was granted, they may hold the school responsible for the additional aid awarded. Because of this, financial aid administrators require official documentation for every FAFSA appeal.

Examples of required documents
Needs-based appeals:

  • Bills and receipts
  • Letters of termination
  • Bank statements
  • Death certificate
Merit-based appeals:

  • Copies of offers from other schools
  • Grades and awards
  • Letters of recommendation

3. Mail your appeal

Contact the school to ensure you address the appeal letter for financial aid to the appropriate office. Contact the financial aid office for more aid if it’s a needs-based appeal. If it’s a merit-based appeal, contact the enrollment or admissions office.

Explain that you want to initiate a professional judgment review (or “special circumstances review,” as some schools call it).

It’s best to avoid discussing the details of your appeal over the phone or in person. Remember, your written documentation will verify your case.

4. Follow up

After a week or two, contact the school to verify receipt. Remember to use a polite tone for any phone or in-person communications. Also, keep everything in writing to ensure proper documentation of the appeal process.

While requesting more financial aid can feel uncomfortable, there are ways to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

First, keep your appeal letter short and to the point. Financial aid administrators don’t need sob stories or complaints — they need to plug your updated data into the formula to determine whether you’re eligible for more money.

However, it’s crucial to include all relevant details of why you need more money. But be sure to avoid bargaining or haggling for a specific amount — just provide the facts and let the administrator do the rest.

Professional judgment decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. So, just because someone else with similar circumstances had their appeal approved, it doesn’t mean your school will approve your request.

Appealing the appeal

Unfortunately, there is no process to take your appeal to a higher level if it’s denied, such as by approaching the college president or the Department of Education. The school’s financial aid administrator makes the final decision.

That said, you may request another professional judgment review if and when your situation changes again. In fact, you can appeal your financial aid package at any point throughout your college career. However, submitting an appeal with the same situational factors will likely be denied again.

Keep in mind that most appeal adjustments are pretty modest since schools often have limited financial aid resources. Still, receiving any amount of extra financial aid means less financial burden for you and your family.


Recent changes to financial aid appeals

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 has brought about new FAFSA system changes. Starting with the 2023-2024 school year, some of these changes include:

  • Financial aid administrators must review every financial aid appeal on a case-by-case basis. They can’t create a policy that automatically denies all professional judgment requests.
  • Institutions must publicly disclose that all students may submit an appeal based on special or unusual circumstances.
  • Institutions may override any dependency determinations made by another college or school in the same or prior award year.

Even if your appeal for more aid is successful, you may need extra funds to cover personal or unexpected expenses. Here are some more ways to pay for college.

1. Apply for scholarships and grants

Scholarships and grants are an excellent way to pay for college since you typically don’t need to repay the funds. Use a scholarship search tool to find more financial help for students based on academic performance, athletics, demographics or fields of study.

2. Consider a ‘no loans’ college

Some “no-loan” colleges provide enough gift aid to cover the cost of attending, helping eliminate the need for student loans. While these schools might not be top of your list, nor will they cover every expense (such as personal supplies), their overall savings make them worth considering.

3. Get a college job

Juggling a full schedule of classes and a job might sound impossible. However, earning extra cash while in college could help reduce your overall student loan debt. You can consider a flexible college job or even start a side hustle that fits around your schedule.

4. Research private student loans

If you still have financial gaps after exhausting all scholarships, grants and federal loan options, you could consider private student loans.

You’ll likely need a creditworthy cosigner to qualify for a private student loan. The better your cosigner’s credit score, the more likely you’ll get a low-interest rate. Plus, you can always try to find an even lower rate later with a student loan refinance.

5. Look into parent student loans

If you feel wary about taking on more student debt, student loans for parents are another viable option. A parent PLUS loan allows your parents to borrow up to the full cost of your school’s attendance minus other aid you expect to receive.

PLUS loans come with many benefits, such as eligibility for the Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan, forbearance and deferment, as well as student loan forgiveness programs.

Several private lenders offer parent loans, though these don’t come with the same federal benefits as PLUS loans.

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