How to Ask for More Financial Aid

Updated on March 6, 2024

At a Glance

  • To ask for more financial aid, follow these four steps.
  • First, write a persuasive appeal letter, focusing on either need-based or merit-based factors. Provide supporting documents, such as invoices or letters of recommendation, to validate your claims.
  • Submit your letter and documents to the appropriate office and follow up to ensure they were received. Additionally, consider including powerful statements in your letter, like stating the specific amount you need or expressing your passion for the school. Be transparent about your family’s financial situation and, if applicable, mention offers from other institutions.
  • Maintain a polite and respectful tone throughout the process.

Paying for college or university is usually the single largest financial hurdle for young people. There are several different ways to reach your funding goal, including student loans and scholarships. Even after you enroll, you may find yourself needing extra help. Read on for step-by-step guidance on how to ask for more financial aid.

4 Steps to Ask for More Financial Aid

As with all difficult tasks, it is useful to break down the process of how to ask for more financial aid into steps. The 4 steps to ask for more financial aid are outlined below.

1. Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter

The best way to make this type of financial aid appeal is in writing. This allows you to present your case persuasively and coherently, and to provide supporting documents. 

Financial aid appeals fall into one of two categories: need-based or merit-based. Each type focuses on different aspects of your situation to make your case. 

Needs-Based Appeal

This type of appeal highlights your situation from a financial standpoint. This is applicable if, after enrollment, your or your family’s financial situation has changed for the worse, due to special circumstances such as:

  • loss of income
  • unexpected major expenses
  • need for special needs, child, or elderly care
  • financial loss due to natural disaster
  • change in marital status or family size
  • death of spouse, parent, guardian, or another breadwinner
  • no longer receiving child support
  • unexpected healthcare costs.

Merit-Based Appeal

A merit-based appeal highlights your situation from the standpoint of your achievements and skills. This could be in the form of academic or sporting achievement; for example, if your grades have shown consistent improvement over time, or if you have represented the school at a high level in sports. 

Another strategy you could use would be if you have received a firm offer of financial aid from a competing institution. This would highlight to your school that you are a sought-after student and motivate them to make a matching offer. 

2. Provide Documentation to Support Your Letter

Regardless of which approach you choose, you need to have documents to prove the claims in your letter. The types of claims differ, so the kinds of documents you need are also different. 

Examples of the kinds of documentary evidence for each type of appeal are listed below:

Need-based appeal:

  • Relevant invoices, bills, and receipts
  • Legal documents (e.g. court orders, marriage or death certificates, police reports, etc.)
  • Letters of termination
  • Bank statements

Merit-based appeal:

  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume
  • Grades/transcript
  • Awards/certificates
  • Offer letters from other schools

3. Submit Your Appeal Letter and Documentation

When you have written and thoroughly proofread your letter, you can submit it along with your supporting documents. 

Contact your school’s financial aid office if you are sending a need-based appeal. For a merit-based appeal, you can ask the enrolment or admission office who the best person to send it to would be. You may be directed to the financial aid office. 

Specifically, ask what the procedure is to initiate a Professional Judgment (sometimes called Special Circumstances) review. If you are in contact over the phone, only ask where the best place is to send your appeal, you don’t have to appeal verbally.

4. Follow Up on Your Appeal Letter

Once you have submitted your appeal letter and supporting document, it is important to make sure that the relevant office has received it. Make a quick follow-up call a week or two after you submit, just to make sure that your appeal was correctly received. Again, don’t try to make or strengthen your appeal over the phone, just verify that it arrived.

5 Powerful Things to Say When Negotiating for More Financial Aid

Another aspect of how to ask for more financial aid is to make sure you strike certain conversational beats in your letter. Not all the things below are suitable for all appeals. Select the most appropriate things to include depending on whether you are making a need-based or merit-based appeal.

1. I need $X to Attend

Whether making merit or need-based appeals, it can be helpful to be completely transparent about what you can and can’t afford to pay. Asking for a specific amount to meet a funding shortfall can be a useful way to make your case.

2. You Are My First Choice

Colleges and universities naturally prefer to offer financial aid to students who are passionate about their school specifically. When you are genuinely passionate about wanting to attend your specific school, making this clear in your letter can help your appeal succeed. It also helps if you can explain why specifically you chose your school (e.g. family ambition, particular degree program, etc.).

3. This is What My Family Can Afford

When making a need-based appeal, you may be tempted to overstate the severity of your financial position. However, that could work against you. Financial aid offices have a limit on how much aid they can offer students. They may prefer to offer a larger number of students smaller amounts of aid rather than offering a lot of discretionary aid to a few very needy students. 

Your best option is to make it clear how you have planned and budgeted to pay for your studies (and possibly how special circumstances have derailed your plans). Providing this kind of detail shows that you have made the effort to get funding and just need a bit of help.

4. College X Has Offered Me More

For merit-based appeals, you can strengthen your case by providing proof of an offer of financial aid from one or more other institutions. The more offers you have, the better the position you will be in. 

5. Please and Thank You

Finally, regardless of the type of appeal, the tone you use (in your letter and telephonic or email contact with financial aid officials) is very important. Being polite and respectful will not guarantee you anything, but it helps make the process smooth and pleasant for everyone involved.

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Final Thoughts 

There are several essential aspects of how to ask for more financial aid. The most important is to decide whether you are making a need-based appeal or a merit-based appeal. Need-based appeals lay out your financial situation in detail and the circumstances which are preventing you from meeting your funding requirements. Merit-based appeals are based on your achievements and abilities as a student or athlete that make you a desirable person for the school to retain. Both types of appeals must be supported by detailed documentary evidence if you want to be approved and have the financial aid disbursed.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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