An effective way to reduce the cost of college is to know how to successfully appeal for more financial aid.
It’s critical to understand that the first financial aid award that a college delivers often doesn’t have to be the only offer. This is especially true since the enrollment management arms of many colleges use sophisticated algorithms in the hopes of answering this question:
What is the smallest amount of a financial aid or merit award that we can offer a student that the family would accept.
How to successfully appeal for more financial aid
Here are 11 things you should consider when appealing an award:
1. You don’t have to have a good reason to appeal.
Conventional wisdom suggests that you have to possess a solid financial reason to successfully appeal a college award. Those traditional reasons include:
• Loss of a job or hours reduction which may or may not be caused by the pandemic.
• Death of a parent.
• Need to support family members such as elderly parents.
• Change of marital status.
• Expensive medical bills.
Parents who face these financial challenges should definitely appeal a disappointing award, but many, many schools will entertain appeals without a solid financial reason.
You also don’t have to have a good reason to ask for a better merit award!
2. Chances of a successful financial aid or merit award appeal will improve if the college needs more students.
Chances of success with an appeal for more need-based or merit aid can depend on how the college is faring with its freshmen deposits. If the freshmen deposits are coming in too slow, a college can be much more willing to sweeten an offer.
In fact, some schools will make up a new scholarship and tell accepted student that the admission office just “discovered” that the teenager was also eligible for an additional scholarship.
A former president of a Midwestern University once told me that his college would routinely give an accepted student an extra $2,000 or $3,000 a year if it looked like this would seal the deal. He recalled one instance when the school gave a child an extra $2,000 a year when the parent said the teenager’s aunt was an alum.
This behavior is especially true when applying to colleges and universities that must work harder to attract students. Schools in that category would include those that wish their U.S. News & World Report rankings were higher and their acceptance rate was lower. This describes most schools!
See the following post of mine that discusses money implications for reach, target and safety schools.
3. How desirable is the student?
Whether a university will hike the amount of need-based financial aid or boost a merit scholarship can depend on how much the school wants a student. A college will be more likely to spurn an appeal if an accepted applicant was on the bubble in terms of admission.
4. Be careful when you negotiate.
While negotiating for a better award, parents don’t want to antagonize the admission staffers by using the word negotiate. Parents also don’t want to come on strong. Remember, admission staffers have the power to dispense better awards. Treat them as gingerly as a police officer who is on the verge of writing you a ticket.
5. Appealing for merit aid won’t always work.
Sometimes parents are surprised when their smart children get into elite schools, but don’t receive a merit award. As I’ve discussed previously in my blog and my course, The College Cost Lab, eite universities typically give little or no merit scholarships. They don’t have to since the parents of rich students are willing to pay full price for brand names.
If your child got into an Ivy League school, for instance, there would be no point in appealing for a merit award because these institutions don’t provide them.
6. You can appeal after the deposit deadline.
Schools don’t like to admit this, but some of them continue to market to students even after the official admission season is over. Parents might be able to obtain a better price from a school that is forced to continue recruiting students into the late spring and summer. Many colleges are recruiting into the summer which makes the traditional May 1 deposit deadline a quaint artifact.
7. Ask about how your home equity impacts your award.
Most colleges don’t include home equity in their aid calculations, but the majority of institutions that use the CSS Profile do. Parents can appeal the school’s use of their home equity and at the very least ask the college to limit its impact.
8. Back up your appeal with details.
Parents should be as detailed as possible when requesting greater awards. If a household has high medical bills, for instance, offer to show copies. If hours have been cut, provide a letter from the employer that backs up the statement.
9. Share competing offers.
If a teenager has better offers from schools, show them to the college the child wants to attend. Ask in advance if this would matter and find out who to scan the offers to.
I had a friend do this when her teenager’s No. 1 choice—California Lutheran University—made an offer that was lower than the other universities that included Linfield College, Dominican University and University of the Pacific. She shared the other awards with Cal Lutheran and the university matched the best award.
10. Be proactive.
If the financial aid application won’t adequately represent your financial situation, you should speak up before receiving an award. Contact the school after your child has applied, but before you receive the award. Some advisors recommend withholding this information until a financial package is given, but I disagree. I think it’s better to present the extenuating circumstances upfront when there are more financial aid dollars in a college’s kitty.
11. Use TuitionFit.
When looking at award letters, definitely check out TuitionFit. TuitionFit is an invaluable tool that has helped thousands of parents and teenagers decide whether individual awards are the best possible and, if desired, quickly recalibrate their college search for better financial fits.
TuitionFit lets you see what kind of awards high school seniors are receiving this year from schools your child applied to and also what kind of awards students, with similar academic and financial backgrounds are getting.
Here is a post that I wrote on TuitionFit last year: TuitionFit: How to find better college awards in minutes