The college financial aid offer letters are showing up at the student’s homes at this time, and many families are shocked by what they are seeing. Most often the colleges are expecting parents and students to pay more than they desire. Sometimes they are asking them to pay above what they can afford and well above the family’s expected family contribution as calculated on their FAFSA form.

“Don’t throw in the towel just yet,” says Scott Anderson, founder and CEO of “There is still more that can often be done. Now is the time to get your appeals ready,” he adds.

The appeals process is essentially negotiating with the college, but Anderson recommends you do not call it negotiating. “Colleges get a little touchy if you talk about negotiating a financial award. They seem to think that they are not big business selling a needed service,” says Mr. Anderson.  Instead, colleges and universities have an appeals process.

The appeals process can take on many forms. Some schools have their own paperwork they want students to complete to start an appeal. Other schools will accept just a letter from the student.  Students need to check the colleges’ websites under financial aid to find out the process for each school. Mr. Anderson recommends that regardless of the specific process, all appeals should go to a representative in the college’s financial aid office if possible. The dean or administrator may be a good choice, but the better choice is the representative responsible for your student’s financial award.  A quick phone call to the financial aid office can get you that answer.

When making an appeal to the college, keep in mind that financial aid officers are people too. If a compelling argument can be made to a stranger as to why the student’s offer should be increased, then there is a good chance you will be successful with the college.

It helps if the student applied to multiple colleges and has multiple offers on the table as well.  Some schools will increase their offers simply because another school had a better offer. It is also important to have multiple choices to choose from.  Maybe the student’s second choice school is going to cost $10,000 less than the first choice school.  $10,000 per year can often change a student’s mind.

State your case clearly and succinctly. For instance, “my wife lost her job and our income this year will be $40,000 less than last year’s information on the FAFSA.” Or “My mother-in-law just moved in with us and we now have to support her.”  Provide whatever supporting financial information you have available, but do not include information that does not pertain to your appeal.

“The number one rule of appealing a student’s financial offer is it never hurts to ask,” says Mr. Anderson. Families need to go ahead and ask. The worst thing that can happen is the college will say no.

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