High School Seniors: Appealing the Financial Aid Package

Nate G.
Nate G.

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College is expensive. In some cases, cost may even be the deciding factor for choosing one school over another. A little-known secret that most high school students don’t realize is that you can actually appeal your financial aid package. Most students, after getting accepted, think their financial aid package is the final verdict. Today, we’re here to explain why it’s important to consider appealing your financial aid package and how to do it. 

It’s no secret that Americans are bogged down by massive amounts of student loans after college graduation. US News Education reported that the typical new college graduate has about $30,000 in loans by the time they enter the workforce. That average unfortunately continues to go up every year. According to Experian, total student loan debt in 2020 has reached $1.57 trillion. That number doesn’t look to be decreasing much at all either. In this blog, we will explain the appeal process so you can dispute the financial aid package and hopefully save yourself thousands of dollars in student loans. 

3 Reasons to Appeal the Financial Aid Package

1). Received a Better Offer from Another College

If you have one or more competing college offers with better financial aid packages, you can definitely file for an appeal. What does the process look like? The school would typically request some sort of proof of the competing financial aid packages. Additionally, you will have an appeal application where you can write the reason for appealing. Potentially, you’ll schedule a conversation (phone or office visit) with a financial aid officer. It’s important to note that the colleges you are negotiating with should be of the same caliber school. For example, Dartmouth financial aid officers won’t entertain an appeal if you try to offer a competing package from a community college. 

2). Personal/Family Financial Circumstances have Significantly Changed

Examples of personal/family financial circumstances that financial aid officers need to know about as soon as possible include:

  • tragic events from a primary caregiver
  • large medical bills
  • natural disasters
  • parent being laid off
  • and the like.

That way, they can work with you to re-create a financial aid package that makes sense for you and your family. In most cases, these officers are understanding, and will do everything they can to ensure that you’re able to attend. 

3). You Made Error in FAFSA Form

Mistakes definitely do happen, and can significantly impact your financial aid package. For example, if you accidentally reported your family’s annual income as $900,000 instead of $90,000, that could be the difference between full-priced tuition versus a large financial aid package. If there was indeed an error, let the financial aid office know asap! When doing the FAFSA for next time, be careful to ensure that all the numbers, dots, commas, and zeros are accurate!

Approaching the Appeal

As you’re filling out the appeal application and making your phone calls to the university financial aid office, it’s important to never approach your appeal process with a “negotiation” or “haggling” mindset. Financial aid offices are often swamped with other students’ applications, and don’t have time to “haggle” simply because you prefer a “better bargain.” You don’t want to end up on the school’s bad side before even enrolling. 

The best approach to the appeal should be driven by a genuine demonstrated need. It’s important to show financial aid officers your continued interest in the school, and what type of difference a better financial aid package would do for you. When filling out the FAFSA, financial aid packages are computed by the numbers you provided in the form. However, the appeal gives you the opportunity to explain your story behind those numbers. 

Appealing financial aid is an individual process. Recent studies have found that the appeal process is typically only about 5 – 7% successful, with average discounts of $3000 – $4000. Schools with larger endowments may be inclined to give slightly more generous discounts, but substantial revisions are usually rare and determined on a case-by-case basis. Revised financial aid packages may not necessarily mean guaranteed money right off the bat. It may come in the form of work-study and/or even student loans. 

Making the Final Verdict

Individual financial aid officers make the final decision about your financial aid package and the revised amount from the appeal. There isn’t a formal hierarchical process with the government or university to contest this. 


Navigating the financial aid process can be confusing and difficult. If not done correctly, it can lead to time-consuming consequences and more paperwork. If you have any remaining questions or are interested in learning more about college counseling, book a free consult today! From appealing your financial aid package to meeting all your important deadlines, Empowerly can help.

Questions? Let us know!