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What you can do when your college financial aid award falls short

Letters from social workers, teachers, school counselors, doctors

Letters from social workers, teachers, school counselors, doctors and clergy can be especially helpful when submitting financial aid forms,  Credit: Getty Images / iStock / ericsphotography

It’s hard to say which is more nerve-wracking — waiting for your college acceptance or for your financial award letter.

If a college turns you down, there’s little you can do other than apply again. But you have more immediate options when it comes to financial aid. The good news, whether you're an incoming freshman or an upperclassman, is that you can appeal that decision.

Here’s how to state your case.

Inquire about the appeals process

“Call the college financial aid office to ask about their appeals process. Some colleges have a form you can download from their website. Others ask you to write a short letter summarizing the special circumstances that affect your ability to pay for college,” says Mark Kantrowitz, author of "How to Appeal for More College Aid."

What’s your story?

Include changes in your income and finances, and anything that differentiates your family's situation from the typical family. Put this information in your appeal letter. “Be polite, as there is no appeal beyond the financial aid administrator,” says Kantrowitz.

Present evidence

Enclose copies of independent documentation of the special circumstances you're documenting, including bills, receipts, account statements, layoff notices. Letters from social workers, teachers, school counselors, doctors and clergy can also be included and are especially helpful, says Charlie Javice, founder of Frank, a Manhattan financial technology firm that offers online help to students filling out financial aid forms 

Get proof of receipt

Send the letter with delivery confirmation or by certified mail, return receipt requested, so that you have proof that you've mailed it. Call the financial aid office a week after receipt to see if they need more information.

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