Unusual Circumstances Essay Examples

If you’re a student with a less-than-perfect academic, extracurricular, or disciplinary history, filling out college applications can often be a nerve-wracking experience. As all colleges (not just elite private institutions) become increasingly competitive each year, having a rough patch or two on your academic record can be extremely discouraging. It’s easy to feel as if a below-average GPA for your dream school or a history of disciplinary action will totally disqualify you, but the truth is, they might not.


College Applications and Personal Circumstances

What students often forget is that the admissions committee at your top-choice school is made up of humans — actual, real human beings — who know that the people whose applications they’re reviewing are humans, too. The admissions process at most private schools and many public schools is claimed to be holistic — meaning they consider the candidate as a person, not as a set of numbers.


You can use this opportunity to demonstrate you’ve grown both academically and personally since you got that shaky GPA or suspension, and admissions boards will appreciate your honesty.


Most applications provide space of around 500 words for you to provide any additional information you may wish to add to your application. If you feel as though there is a weakness in your application you’d like to tell admissions officers more about, this space provides an excellent opportunity to do so.


It’s important, however, to keep in mind when choosing whether to write something in the additional information section that you should not simply be making excuses for a bad GPA or trying to downplay getting suspended for cheating; whatever you choose to include should substantially improve and develop your application, as well as offer a perspective on your record and you as a person that is not otherwise reflected in your essays.


Tips for writing about low GPA, disciplinary record, etc.

If you feel as though choosing to write a short essay for the additional information section would add significantly to your application, we have a few tips for how to make the most of this space and how to effectively describe exceptional personal circumstances on your college applications.


Firstly, it’s important to be candid and straightforward. For example, if you were subject to disciplinary action for cheating, it’s not in your best interest to try and downplay your own responsibility for your actions or divert the blame to someone else; likely, this will strike admissions committees as a transparent attempt to avoid taking responsibility, and they’re unlikely to be moved by your story.


Rather, tell the truth about what happened (honestly and objectively) and emphasize what you learned from the experience rather than the negative consequences. Take the opportunity to draw a contrast between who you were when you made that mistake and who you are now — this allows you to demonstrate maturity and growth.


If you had several semesters where your GPA dropped below average, you may be concerned about whether this dip in your cumulative GPA will adversely affect your chances at your top choices. While grades are obviously extremely important, a 4.0 is not necessary to gain admission to a great school. If you’re worried about your average, the additional information section may provide you with a space to assure admissions officers that you’re a strong candidate nonetheless.


If you know there’s a point where your grades dropped in high school, begin by trying to identify the reasons why. Did you have additional stressors at home that prevented you from doing your work or from doing it as well as you could have? Did you suffer from an illness (physical or mental) that impeded your ability to perform to your highest ability at home and in class? If you can reference a clear and legitimate reason why your grades dropped, admissions officers will take that into account when considering your academic record.


Although they are certainly not ideal, B’s and even C’s aren’t automatic disqualifiers from admissions, even at the most selective colleges, and grades’ role in admissions is not as black and white as some might assume. Your GPA, whether it is exceptional or less than stellar, is not the be-all and end-all of your application.


The holistic admissions process is personal and considers applicants in all the ways their present themselves in their applications, and not solely based on their academic performance. As in the aforementioned situation, if you have had poor grades in the past, attempting to absolve yourself of responsibility for them likely won’t add much to your application — provide explanations, not excuses.

How to Write an Appeal Letter for Financial Aid

5 Financial Aid Appeal Letter Samples Below

Guidelines When Preparing Your Letter.

  1. When possible, deliver the financial aid appeal letter in person.
  2. Try to address the letter to a specific person in the financial aid office.
  3. Check the school’s websites to both understand and follow school’s appeal process, pay attention to required forms that go with your letter.
  4. Ideal letter length is one page (not always possible), use a block style letter format like the samples below.
  5. The tone of your letter should be polite and respectful. Do not use the word “negotiate” or “bargain”“. Do not refer to financial aid staff personnel as ”Officer”.
  6. You must determine whether you are appealing for more federal money and/or institutional money. Federal regulations limit how  FAFSA data can change. CSS PROFILE schools adhere to general principles from the College Board. These guidelines measure more family financial data than the FAFSA. Individual elements can vary from school to school; for example, the deductibility of private high school tuition from financial aid income in the family’s expected family contribution (“EFC”).
  7. The Financial Aid Office can exercise “Professional Judgment” granted by Higher Education Act Section 479(a)[“HEA”] which can award you more financial assistance. Relative family financial information according to regulatory provisions and school practices are necessary for success.

Strategy Alert: “Do-it-yourself” appeals can fall short without proper knowledge of rules/regulations that affect financial aid income and awards. Aid personnel are provided guidelines within a regulatory framework when adjusting financial aid awards. Successful appeals support the objectives of the guidelines presenting logical information toward a favorable outcome.

 Financial Aid Appeal Strategies

1. Special Circumstance/s Appeal

When there are recognized changes in a family’s financial situation that affect their ability to pay for college. We have identified 20 broad categories that divide into many family situations.

Above each sample letter below we identify circumstances within each letter.

2. Institutional Appeals: Examples “Admit to Deny” | “Low Ball Offer”

This occurs when you do not have any special circumstances but you feel the financial aid award is inadequate. Check the fairness of the financial aid offer based upon the historical financial awards of the college (Percentage of Need Met).

In some situations an institutional appeal can be included with a special circumstance appeal especially when the initial financial aid award’s percentage need met is low.,

Our software calculates this information.

3. Satisfactory Academic Progress (“SAP Appeal”)

When your GPA falls below a certain standard or your attempted credit hours exceed a certain time frame, you will receive a SAP letter indicating you are not longer eligible for federal student aid.

You can appeal your SAP status. First, go to the school’s website and review their SAP appeal process and follow the instructions carefully. Second, write your letter indicating what caused you to underperform. Third, what is your “Academic Plan” to correct the situation.

4. “Student Budget” Adjustment

The Higher Education Act allows the Financial Aid Office to make certain adjustments to the student budget component of the Cost of Attendance. Such an adjustment can be a dollar for dollar increase in financial aid unlike an adjustment to financial aid income.

Let’s Determine If We Can Help You?

Appeal Examples of Success 

[Last names | schools omitted for privacy reasons.]

Jim Kuhner, Coach-for-College

Appeal Case: “I was not sure where to find help until I found your financial aid appeal page. Your service is exceptional and that is rare these days. Just one of your strategies saved us over $8,000. I have told many people about what you are doing to help us, and I intend to tell everyone that I meet. Most of my acquaintances also have children in college. Thank you.”  –Sherry H. Maryland [ Appeal Award $29,000]

Appeal Case – “Given my status at the time, I felt completely lost and was afraid to make the wrong move given the risks. I wanted guidance and wasn’t completely sure who to turn to.  I exchanged emails with Mr. Kuhner then moved forward with his coaching service.My entire situation was nerve wracking, and I did not feel I was prepared to handle it on my own. Now, I feel great that my problem is resolved.  And even better that I have gained knowledge I did not previously know or fully understand. It was also a pleasure working with Mr. Kuhner (Coach-for-College), who was nothing but professional in assisting me.”  – Dorothy D. – New Jersey [AppealAward $3,000]

Appeal Case – “As you know I needed to appeal but was not sure of the best approach. I was surprised when you told me you only accept certain appeals because you want to make sure they are valid appeals. Now I understand your process and your appeal expertise. I am so happy my appeal was valid, your service is the best investment I have ever made.” – Sophia H. – Arizona [AppealAward $11,000]

Click On Orange Circle Upper Right

Email: [email protected]

Special Direct Line to Jim 817-600-0576

Inflated Income | One Time Disability Insurance Benefit and Forced Stock Liquidation Payment

Financial Appeal  Letter # 1 Special Circumstances

Ms. Jennifer Lopez
Financial Aid Officer Students M-S
University of the Pacific
165 University Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90002

Dear Ms. Lopez;

We submitted our Financial Aid Forms FAFSA and CSS Profile on May 30, 2013.

We did not file earlier because we filed last year and did not qualify for financial assistance.  We recently became aware that if we notified Honors University and documented our financial hardship that your decision this year might be different.

Cindy and John Stevens are the parents of Julie M. Stevens who hopefully can start her senior year 2013 and graduate the following spring meeting her graduation goal of 4 years.

Please bear with us while we take you back in time to explain the severe accident that occurred and the medical / financial devastation to a very successful executive (Exhibit 1) and to his family.

John Stevens was traveling on business when he suffered a severe stroke in June 2011. After a life saving-operation John received physiological, occupational, speech, and psychological therapy, and assistance from family members.

As a result of the stroke, John’s official status is total and permanent disability with not possibility of employment. This status was determined by the Social Security Administration upon the first review (Exhibit 2).

John suffers multiple ailments including heart complications, short term memory loss with significant walking impairments.

John before is required resignation (Exhibit 3) was a senior executive with his company. The company provided their senior executives disability insurance. He received a total of $940,000 pre-tax paid which was paid in June 2012. A significant part of the distribution was removed by required federal and state taxes (Exhibit 4).

His company also provided stock options which had to because of a forced liquidation measure when the owner leaves the company’s employment. The taxable distribution of $325,000 was received in January 2012 (Exhibit 5).

The disability payment and stock option distribution are one-time events which unfortunately inflates the family’s actual ability to contribute to Julie’s education. The disability payment has to provide care for the rest of John’s life, he is currently 53. The stock distribution was used to purchase living quarters that included making the home handicapped ready. This was necessary since his only income is Social Security and his wife earns $14,000 per year. It would be impossible to qualify for a mortgage.

We are asking Honors University to consider our special circumstances as you review our situation recognizing the FAFSA results inflate our family income and overstates our financial ability to pay for Julie’s senior year.


Unusual Income Event | Loss of Child Support | Sibling Private Education Tuition Expense | Loss of Income

Appeal Letter #2 Special Circumstances

Ms. Joan Stinson, M.B.A.
Financial Director School Name
1640 5th Street
Berea, OH 44017

Dear Ms. Stinson;

We would thank you for the school’s financial award of $13,750 per year, (Exhibit 1).

My son, Gil and I are excited about the possibility of him attending your school. Through our research we understand the academic and community life offerings which we feel are an outstanding opportunity for Gil.

However, we would like to bring to your attention our strained financial situation that may result in Gil not being able to attend your school.

As you know we applied for Financial Aid with the completion of the FAFSA.

Our family 2012 income reported on the FAFSA was estimated at $104,215.

The FAFSA does not accurately depict our family financial situation and the ability to contribute to Gil’s college expenses.

First my income was higher last year as a result of an unusual bonus from my employer of $29,000. The generous act on my employer’s part is a one-time event and will not be repeated in 2013.

I no longer receive child support from Gil’s biological father because he turned 18 years five months ago. This reduces our family income by $8,400. On top of that I asked Gil’s father to help with educational costs and he said he would not help. We were divorced in 2016 (Exhibit 2).

In addition, we are responsible for our 14-year old son’s private school tuition which for this year is $7,500 and trending upwards.

On top of all this my husband lost his job a three months ago. In this economy and at his age (58) we are hopeful but very uncertain when he might find employment. In the meantime we no longer receive his income. He is receiving unemployment benefits (Exhibit 3 Monthly Income Reduction).

Both Gil and I sincerely appreciate your time in reviewing our financial situation. As you can see the FAFSA reporting process does not account for our situation.

Gil’s first choice is your school, it always has been since he first researched your school and visited. He especially likes the English major department head (Professor Johnson) who he was fortunate to meet.

We have no other choice without your consideration in looking toward several other schools where Gil was accepted and received financial aid awards. In doing our budget these schools are more affordable with our available financial resources and family ability to pay for college.

Gil wants to attend your school but understands the financial situation. His first choice remains your college (insert name).

Can you consider making your offer more affordable to our family by improving the offer to $19,000 from the current $12,600?

Gil, his father, and I would like to meet with you next week to thank  you for your consideration in person.

We will call for an appointment.

Thank you so much for your assistance.

Exhibits: (4)

cc: Professor Johnson

One-Time Income Bonus | Accounting Only Entry Resulting in Taxable Income with out Receipt Cash Flow

Appeal Letter #3 Special  Circumstances

Mr. Jack Caldwell
Director of Financial Aid Great Lakes College
100 N. Main Street
Detroit, MI 48203

Dear Mr. Caldwell:

When we filed our FAFSA we were very surprised at our income totals computed by the financial aid form that totaled $197,000. Our family’s income included three very unusual one-time income events.

  1. A one-time bonus of $95,000 granted in 2013 that will not be awarded in 2014 or any year thereafter.
  2. A paper transaction without constructive receipt of the money resulting in taxable income of $38,500 from an irrevocable trust.
  3. A book-only income entry from a non-participatory S corporation in the amount of $22,600.

According to a Financial Aid Administrator at Walden University, under a rule called professional judgment, my paper income can be ignored, since it cannot be used for college expenses, and my one-time bonus of $70,000 can be eliminated from income and treated as an asset.

Walden indicated from their review of our special circumstances and our FAFSA filing we would be eligible to receive $14,755 in financial aid from their university.

Great Lakes College is my daughter’s number one choice because she is impressed with your college community and wants to play volleyball for Great Lakes College (see letter from your Volleyball coach).

She has offers for her athletic abilities from other schools, University of ABC, State University at Illinois, and College of Williams as well as some other Division III schools.

Your school is more expensive than any of the schools we are considering. However, we would select your school if you would consider our unusual financial circumstances reference above.

Please review our special circumstances. We are asking for an adjustment to our income calculation computed by the FAFSA that would qualify us for the $14,755 indicated by Walden University. Without the adjustment it’s highly likely my daughter can attend your school.

I would appreciate a response as soon as possible, so we can make the appropriate arrangements for my daughter’s future.


EFC Reduction | Two Students  in College 

 Appeal Letter # 4 Institutional  Appeal

Ms. Karen Smith
Financial Aid Officer
Anywhere University
1000 Any Street
City, State, ZIP Code

RE: Financial Award Letter for Heath Jones, Student OSI ID Number # 16-593940

Dear Ms. Smith:

Our family would like to thank you for Heath’s recent financial aid award letter. However, we are very concerned with the results. Our expected family contribution dropped from $20,365 in 2010-11 to $6,987 for the 2012-13 school year, yet the award package left us with an additional need of over $8,500. The reduction in this year’s EFC is due to a reduction in assets, plus the fact that we will be sending two students to college during the 2011-2012 year. In spite of these changes, however, the amount of the current award is essentially the same as the award for 2010-11.

Every college publication on the market states your university meets about 95% of its student’s need, and we have seen award letters sent to high school seniors in our area substantiating this number. We would like to request that Anywhere University reward Heath, a current student with a 3.4 GPA, an award package equal to, or better than, an incoming freshman. It will be financially difficult for us to continue to send Heath to Anywhere University without an increase in financial aid.

We would appreciate your review of our circumstances and a response to our present award package as soon as possible, so that we may begin to make alternative arrangements, if necessary.


Demonstrated Interest | Matching Another Financial Award

Appeal Letter #5 Institutional Appeal

Mr. Lionel Anderson
Director of Financial Aid
Anywhere University
1000 Any Street
City, State, ZIP Code

RE: Financial Award Letter for Heather Smith, AU Student ID Number: 15-14938

Dear Mr. Anderson:

Enclosed are our Student Aid Report and a copy of (Another University’s) Award Letter per our recent telephone conversation. We discussed our family’s present financial situation and how it would be financially difficult for Heather to attend Anywhere University unless the university reconsiders her financial aid amount. You said you would do everything possible to provide additional assistance for Heather and suggested we send you the above stated information.

As you know, Heather is a very talented young lady and truly wants to attend your school. However, as the enclosed (Other University’s) award shows, other schools have committed substantially more money to Heather’s education.

Both my wife and I obtained new jobs last year and are trying to pay the debt we incurred while unemployed during the past year. This has forced us to take a seriously consider Stanford’s award as an economically viable alternative. However, Heather would prefer to attend Anywhere University. If there is any way you can increase Heather’s award to make the cost of Anywhere University affordable for us, Heather will commit to attending your university for the 2011-2012 school year.

Please contact me as soon as possible so that we can make the appropriate arrangements for Heather’s future.

Best Regards,

Click Orange Icon Upper Right

Email: [email protected],

Or, call 817-600-0576.

We will also explain exactlywhat yourEFC number means and ways to lower your score in the future.


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