Written By - Gabby H.

Edited By Gabriel D.

Review & Contribution By Jake Wilson

You have taken the first step in obtaining financial aid for your degree program by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Congratulations if your college financial aid administrator has approved your award. But what if your award is not as much as you expected? What do you do now? A Financial Aid Appeal is something you can do to make a case for a higher award. First, remember that FAFSA is a general form most colleges and universities use. However, there is no space on the form for your family to describe any exceptional circumstances that may affect their ability to pay for college. And once the form has been submitted, only college financial aid administrators are allowed to adjust the data fields on the FAFSA, when you provide them with adequate documentation of your exceptional circumstances. This guide will walk you through how to appeal your financial aid decision, correct your FAFSA form, and what happens if the appeal is denied.

Financial Aid Appeal

Table Of Contents

FAFSA Corrections

We all make mistakes, but trying to correct them is crucial. Making FAFSA changes is relatively easy. Here are all the aspects of FAFSA corrections you need to know: 

What Are You Allowed to Correct on the FAFSA?

Correcting the FAFSA form means altering any 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. Data you can correct yourself include:

  • Incorrect Social Security Number
  • Mistakes on the Form

How to Make Corrections to FAFSA?

  • Log on to the FAFSA website with your FSA ID
  • Choose the “make FAFSA corrections” option
  • If needed, change contact information and/or dependency status for changes that do not relate to marriage.

Update FAFSA

Start by consulting the college financial aid administrator to determine if a FAFSA needs updating. Additionally, if you have a marital change, contact financial aid departments to determine how the change impacts the dependency status.

When you submit a FAFSA, it should represent your situation on the day of your application. For this reason, students 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
  • Number of People in Your Household
  • Number of College Students in Your Household

Applicants should leave most FAFSA fields unchanged since the document reflects their situation at first submission. 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 Financial Aid

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

Appeal processes vary among schools, with institutions requiring specific forms, documents, and verification. For this reason, you should contact financial aid departments to determine your school’s 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 at a time, so a student may need to submit an appeal yearly to continue earning additional aid. However, departments may require documentation to prove that the unique circumstance that impacted the student’s finances still applies.

Special Circumstances include any financial circumstances that have changed in the last two years or anything that differentiates the student from typical students. The ten most common special circumstances include:

  1. Job loss or decrease in income 
  2. Divorce or separation of a dependent student’s parents
  3. Death of a dependent student’s parent
  4. Special needs or disabled children
  5. Unreimbursed medical and dental expenses
  6. Catastrophic loss, such as damage or loss from a natural disaster
  7. Textbook costs beyond the standard allowance in the cost of attendance
  8. Change in the student’s marital status
  9. Dependency override
  10. End of child support, Social Security benefits for a child, or alimony payments

How to Write an Appeal for Financial Aid

Step 1 – Assess Your Circumstances

Only extraordinary situations will qualify you to receive more financial aid. These include a change in college-attending household members, divorce, and disability. You can ask financial aid departments for information to determine if your situation qualifies for appeal.

Step 2 – Contact the School’s Financial Aid Department

Each school requires different steps for filing financial aid appeals. For information on the appeal process, contact your school’s financial aid office.

Step 3 – Collect Needed Documentation

Provide documents that verify your special circumstances, including evidence of unemployment benefits or medical bills. Additionally, you can provide signed statements from social workers, police officers, and school faculty that confirm the particular circumstance. These statements should also explain how this issue causes a need for additional assistance.

Step 4 – Write an Appeal Letter, If Needed

Most schools require an appeal letter detailing the reasons for needing more aid. These statements should address the special circumstances impacting your finances with exact information, such as specific dates and salary differences. Other institutions may not require letters, but applicants may still be required to submit appeal forms and verification documents. Those considering appeals should consult their financial aid departments for guidance on school policies.

Step 5 – Submit Your Appeal

You can submit your 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 to see if the department requires additional documentation after submitting appeals. The time needed to process and review appeals may vary among schools, but candidates can generally expect a decision in less than one month.

Tips for How to Win a Financial Aid Appeal

  • Contact your college financial aid office and/or the college financial aid administrator for guidance
  • Make a note of the names of those you speak to
  • Treat each contact professionally
  • In all interactions, be direct and be specific
  • Become familiar with the policies and procedures to apply and appeal for financial aid
  • Have your information and documentation ready
  • When writing, use a professional format
  • Proofread all written correspondence
  • Be conscious of deadlines

What Happens if Your Appeal is Approved?

If your financial aid appeal is approved, it will be implemented by changing the data fields on the FAFSA. For example, if a parent has lost their job, the college financial aid administrator will change the income and income tax figures on the FAFSA. Using the FAFSA’s standard financial aid formula this will generate a new Expected Family Contribution (EFC). The EFC will yield a new figure for Demonstrated Financial Need based on the difference between the cost of attendance and the new EFC. In turn, this will produce a new financial aid package.

What to Do if Your Financial Aid Appeal is Denied?

There is no appeal beyond the college financial aid administrator. Neither the college’s president nor the U.S. Department of Education can override the financial aid administrator’s decision. 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.

Other sources of funds could include:

  • Scholarships
  • Private Loans
  • Employer Tuition Reimbursement Plans
  • Part-Time Jobs
  • Summer Jobs
  • Paid Internships

Read more about financial aid in the best financial aid guide.

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