What to Do When Your Financial Aid Award Isn’t Enough

Resources to help you pay for college.

If you’ve received a financial aid offer from a college you’re interested in attending but find it isn’t enough, you may be eligible to submit a financial aid appeal. Your financial situation may have changed since submitting your financial aid applications due to a job loss or significant family expense. Or you find that the financial aid applications don’t show a complete picture of your ability to pay for college. You can work with your financial aid office, submit a financial aid appeal, and access more financial aid.

Appealing for more financial aid

You can appeal for additional financial aid due to a change in your family or financial circumstances or because you don’t feel the information on your financial aid forms accurately represents your ability to pay for college. The college financial aid office typically manages and reviews appeals for financial aid that was awarded based on the results of your FAFSA® or CSS Profile. Appealing for additional merit scholarship funding may be managed by the admissions office.

If the college accepts your appeal, they can increase your federal financial aid or financial aid offered directly from the college. Remember that appealing doesn’t guarantee you’ll receive additional financial aid. Colleges can choose to accept or deny appeals depending on the circumstances.

College financial aid office websites often share information about what steps to take if you’ve had a change in financial circumstances since completing your aid application. Simply search appeal or special circumstances if you don’t see these instructions listed. Financial aid staff are also available to provide you with guidance and discuss options if your financial aid awards or offers aren’t enough to cover your college expenses.

Questions to ask the financial aid office

The first step is to talk to the financial aid office at your college. The financial aid office can review your current offer and give you an idea of what additional funding might be available.

Some questions to ask when talking with your financial aid office:

  • What’s the appeals process for circumstances such as a recent change in family income?
  • Are additional scholarships or grants available?
  • Are there additional types of aid you could qualify for, such as work-study or institutional loans?
  • If you’re a first-year or transfer student, will they consider increasing your financial aid in the event you receive a better offer from another college?
  • Were other college related expenses, such as the cost of a laptop or student health insurance, considered when calculating your financial aid offer?

Contacting your financial aid office and asking these questions is the first step in identifying ways you could receive additional financial aid.

How to appeal for more financial aid

  1. Gather documentation related to your reason for appealing. Documentation will vary based on your family circumstances. Some examples are:
    • Job loss of a parent─unemployment benefits statements.
    • Natural disaster─insurance documentation or documentation of the financial impact.
    • Significant medical expenses─statements or receipts that show amounts paid by your family and not covered by insurance.
  2. Review appeal or special circumstance instructions on your financial aid office’s website. Reach out to a financial aid counselor to learn the steps required for the appeals process. Some colleges may have a form you have to fill out and a place to upload supporting documentation. In contrast, other colleges may ask you to explain your circumstances via email and attach your documentation.
  3. Prepare and submit the documentation quickly. The sooner you submit the information, the sooner you’ll know how your financial aid may be adjusted.
  4. Follow up. Check to see if anything else is needed to complete the appeal and when you should expect to hear back.

The appeals process can increase how much financial aid you can receive and help make college more affordable. Still, it isn’t guaranteed, and even if approved, it may not cover the amount you need for the college to be affordable. While you’re appealing for more financial aid, look for additional scholarships. Identify additional resources to help pay for college, and explore other options to fill the financial aid gap.

Every college has its own process for financial aid appeals. Don't hesitate to start the process if you think you have a reason to appeal. You should go ahead and appeal to let the college decide if you’re eligible for more financial aid.