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Essays For Financial Aid

Higher education is expensive, and many financial resources require a Statement of Financial Need when identifying applicants for scholarships and aid. Of course, as pointed out by a student on the forum “answers.yahoo.com,” you can enclose the estimated financial contribution from the FAFSA application, but most scholarships and grants require personal statements as well. Requirements vary by scholarship and school, so how do you write a financial needs statement?

What Exactly is a Statement of Financial Need?

It is a short letter, usually about two or three paragraphs, that explains why you would benefit from being awarded a scholarship. This is not a debit-and-credit sheet such as the FAFSA application requires. The Statement of Financial Need should be concise and compelling.

Start With a Brief Introduction

First, list any special scholarship need groups to which you may belong. Are you the first in your family to go to college? This is the place to explain that. Are you from a disadvantaged family? Are you from an ethnic group that is under-represented at the school? In this introductory paragraph, you give the financial aid committee a picture of who you are.

Explain How You are Paying for College Now

Let them know you are not ignoring other sources of help. Tell the committee if you are working to help pay college expenses. Detail what steps you have already taken to pay for your education, such as 529 Savings Plan. This gives the scholarship committee a starting point from which to understand your financial situation.

Explain Difficulties You Are Having in Meeting Your Needs

A Statement of Financial Need should tell the committee why you are seeking aid. This is the place to talk about any changes that have occurred in your life that impact your ability to pay for your education. For instance, there may have been changes in your family’s income, unanticipated expenses or a shortfall in your finances. In this area, you can also provide information to show that you handle funds responsibly. For instance, have you already paid for a semester, or a year, by your own efforts? If you broach this issue, though, include only information about education, and not about unrelated things like car loans.

Talk About How You Would Benefit From the Scholarship

This may seem obvious, but it is important for the committee to understand that you intend to make good use of the funding. According to the financial aid page at “umass.edu,” this might include benefits like being able to concentrate on your studies by not spending so much time working. The funds might also allow you to take an unpaid internship required by your degree. In fact, the scholarship may make the difference between dropping out and finishing your studies. If that is the case, let the committee know.

Close In a Brief and Respectful Tone.

Do not beg. Avoid emotionalism. Let your tone be professional and polite.

Scholarships and financial aid are privileges, not inherent rights; the opportunities that these funds give students are invaluable. Schools and funding sources have a great responsibility in deciding to whom the awards should go. A Statement of Financial Need is one tool they use, and it is up to the student to make it as “sharp” as possible.

Related: Merit Based or Financial Need – Which Scholarship is Easier to Obtain?

Click here to hear my complete interview about how to win a financial aid appeal letter with financial aid expert Jodi Okun, who has helped thousands of families navigate the college financial planning process and contributed one of the financial aid request letter samples in this post. 

So you’ve been accepted to a great college (yay!) only to find out the school isn’t giving you enough money (womp womp). What do you do? Accept your fate? Resign yourself to attending your back-up school? Start a GoFundMe campaign?

Maybe. But first...

You gotta’ wonder: Is this ALL the money the school can offer me? Could it be that, if you ask nicely and write a financial aid letter request, then the school just might give you a little more?


True story: When I asked Northwestern for more money the school gave me more money AND THAT LED TO THE BEST FOUR YEARS OF MY LIFE. In fact, I only spent about $4,000 per year. Caveat: I had a zero EFC (Estimated Family Contribution), so much of it was need-based aid, but still! If I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have gotten more money and probably wouldn’t have gone there.

Real-talk: Asking people for money is hard. I get weird sometimes just asking friends to chip in for pizza. And it can be especially difficult when your college future is on the line.

But consider doing it. Because, well, your college future might be on the line.

Why should you consider writing a financial aid letter request?

  • you can write a financial aid appeal letter in like an hour, and
  • it may be the fastest $2,000 (or $8,000) you ever make
  • if you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

When should I make a financial aid appeal letter request?
As soon as you can. Because when the money’s gone, it’s gone. So, like, now.

How do I write one?
I’m about to tell you. But before I do I thought I’d bring in some help.

In Episode 103 of the College Essay Guy podcast I spoke with Jodi Okun, financial aid guru and author of the Amazon bestseller Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro.

We talked about everything from whether or not to include house and retirement when reporting assets on the FAFSA to how decisions are sometimes made in a financial aid office. But the main topic of our conversation was appeal letters--what they are, who should write one, and what to literally say to a financial aid officer when calling to make an appeal. Here’s one of my favorite bits of advice from Jodi on the importance of allowing for a pause in conversation when appealing to a financial aid officer:

“Parents have an agenda about what they want to say, but financial aid offices have a process they have to follow with every folder on their desk,” Jodi says. “You may think the next step is one thing but they may give you another step which might get you further in your appeal.”

Below you’ll find a few great financial aid request letter samples--one from my former student and a couple from families Jodi worked with--with analysis and suggestions on how to write your own appeal letter. Underneath that you’ll find some links to some financial aid resources you don’t want to miss.

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