Presenting an Extenuating Circumstance Appeal

Presenting an Extenuating Circumstance Appeal

Don't they care? Do they know that I am paying private school tuition for my other children? Do they consider the fact that I have to pay for braces for my younger children? The answers to these questions are yes, no, and maybe so. Despite what many people would lead you to believe, most financial aid officers do care about the students and that is why they chose their career. The problem comes because they have to try to equitably distribute limited funds. Not only do they have limited funds but they also have a limited methodology with which to determine which families are the "neediest."

But how does your college deal with unusual expenses? Just as with any other topic in college admissions, there is no easy answer. However, there is one certainty: they will not consider an extenuating circumstance unless they know about it. How do you present an extenuating circumstance to a college? While some schools may have a form that you need to submit, the first step is always to write a letter to the school. The school will then let you know the specific process and what supporting documentation that they will require. Here are some factors that schools I have dealt with in the past have considered:

Unusual cost of employment: One family had a father that worked in Boston, Massachusetts, but lived in Milford, Connecticut (140 miles away). Not only did the father have higher gas costs than usual, but he had to stay overnight in a hotel one or two nights a week, incurring further expenses.

  • Unusual unreimbursed medical expenses. This is a fairly common problem. The expenses can range from paying off braces to several families that we worked with where one parent was on the list for an organ donation.
  • Private school tuition for younger children. While the CSS PROFILE does ask for that information and private schools utilizing institutional methodology give you an allowance for tuition, not all schools give you this allowance.
  • Anticipated drop in income. Maybe you received a bonus in the year that counts for financial aid that you won't be receiving the next year, or maybe, you had to take money out of your IRA to pay for educational expenses, adn that money counted as income on your tax form. Also, maybe one parent lost a job and there will be a significant drop in income for the coming year.

There is the possibility that you will present an extenuating circumstance appeal and the school will not give you any money. If that happens you are no worse off than when you began the process. They will most likely not take any money away from you because they feel you are acting like an ingrate. However, if they are able to give you some money you will be much better off. Below we have some a sample offer letter from a college, a copy of the families appeal letter, and finally the school's revised offer letter.In closing, here are some things to keep in mind when crafting your appeal letter:

  • Be careful before you cry poor. Remember, that the aid officers really do want to help and they see scores of students with similar profiles to yours. Also, remember that Financial Aid Officers do not usually receive exorbitant salaries, so while you may not feel like you are making a lot of money, in many instances you are making more than they are, so they might not be too sympathetic to your plight.
  • Always acknowledge the generosity, and then ask them to consider the extenuating circumstances and see if there is any way to review your file. We will talk about "negotiating" and pairing off colleges in another article.
  • Stick to the facts. Be prepared to provide the college with documentation of medical expenses or loss of income. They are not as likely to consider an anticipated or possible loss of income. In that instance, they will make you file the appeal when it actually happens, or just wait for the next year as you have to file your financial aid applications every year.

Initial Financial Aid Offer

Extenuating Appeal Letter

1365 Center Street
Any Town, CT 06460

April 11, 2006

Small Private University
Office of Financial Aid
100 Main Street
Nice City, RI 00000

To Whom It May Concern:

I would like to start by thanking you for you initial generosity with my financial aid package. I am writing to make you aware of some extenuating circumstances and see if it would be possible for you to revise my aid package. First, we filed the FAFSA on an estimated basis, and our actual 2005 AGI ended up being lower than we anticipated. The actual AGI was $117,050, as opposed to the $120,283 that we anticipated on the FAFSA. While, our taxes were a little lower ($12,793 Actual versus $13,619 estimated), that did not offset the lower income.

Secondly, my brother will be attending a private high school next year. He will be attending St. Joseph's High School, and the tuition is $8,000 a year as opposed to the $3,500 in tuition they paid for him at St. James this past year.

Small Private University is my first choice, and I will be attending in the Fall. I would appreciate anything that you could do in order to help make the expense easier for my family in light of these extenuating circumstances.

Thank you again for your generosity and I look forward to your reply and attending Small Private in the Fall.


Jane Doe
Social Security Number 123-45-6789

Revised Financial Aid Offer

Note that after the letter the family received $1,600 in additional Grant money!!!