A letter of special circumstance, also known as a letter for financial assistance, is a letter that a student writes to a college or university when they cannot afford the tuition. It explains and demonstrates that the circumstances keeping the family from paying tuition are out of the family's control, and expresses the student's desire to overcome the circumstances to continue their education at the institution. Once the school receives the letter, it will look further into the situation. If the school determines that your family's situation qualifies as a special circumstance, it will make arrangements so that you can go to school, regardless of the financial crisis. These arrangements might come in the form of an extended payment plan, helping you secure a loan on short notice, or providing you with a a tuition waiver. Though these requests are not always granted, if your family is recovering from the sudden death of a family member, sudden and serious medical debt, costly damages resulting from an accident or natural disaster, or a different misfortune, it is worth asking for help.

Determine Required Information

Visit your school's financial aid or admissions website before writing the letter. Each school requires a different process for submitting a letter of special circumstance. Your school's website will state if you need to provide additional documents or if you need to include information that other schools might not request. If you are on campus while attempting to manage your special circumstances, it may be worthwhile to schedule a meeting with a Financial Aid officer to talk through your options and the process to come. Regardless, don't be afraid to ask your school's office questions when attempting to prepare for the application process.

Formatting Your Letter For Financial Assistance

Before beginning the letter itself, be sure to format the letter in a professional manner. Though Financial Aid officers are generally understanding and want to help, presenting your case professionally can help your chances if it is up to a single person's decision. While you may not be able to find a dedicated letter of circumstance template, most professional letter templates will work for this situation. If you aren't using a template, type the date in the top-left corner of your word processing program on your computer. Drop down two lines and type the name and title of the person to whom you are writing. For example: Mary Jones, Director of Financial Aid. Drop down two lines and type your preferred salutation.

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Writing the Letter Itself

Introduce the situation that is causing your special circumstance, such as the death of the family's major wage earner or the adverse effects of an accident or natural disaster. Explain details to help the school determine whether or not the situation is a special circumstance. For example, if your father died, explain that he did not have life insurance and that your mom does not have a job. Include a statement noting that your family has no control over this financial matter and that it causes undue hardship for your family if you must pay tuition. While making your case, be sure to note your educational goals and the way you would use the opportunity if granted a tuition waiver: if you have a stellar academic record or are a first-generation college student, or hold a position in the student government or similar organization, make note of this. You'll want to convince your school that you deserve the chance – though it may be frustrating, feeling as though you need to beg for the ability to continue your education. Take your time while writing the letter if you need it. If it helps, look up a special circumstances essay example to guide you: don't follow it directly, but use it as a reference as you cover the situation.

Finishing Your Letter

Once you've finished making your case in the letter, leave your contact information, including your phone number, at the bottom of the letter, below your name. Be sure to both type and sign your name. Include any other information that will help the school identify you, such as a student ID number. Finally, follow the correct procedure to submit the letter – whether that involves emailing the document to your school's Financial Aid office or delivering it to the office in person.

About the Author

Colby Stream has been a writer since 2007. His work has appeared in "The Arbiter," the student newspaper of Boise State University, as well as various websites. Stream graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in communication as a presidential civic leadership scholar.