If your first choice college offers everything you want but the price tag is making you cringe, don’t give up hope; consider appealing your financial aid award. While colleges and universities won’t encourage such an appeal, the financial aid officers are empowered to make adjustments, if deemed warranted.
To appeal, do the following:
Do not deposit until you’ve settled the financial aid discussion. Once they have your money, colleges will be less motivated to offer a better deal.
Be realistic. Show the college that this is a partnership that you want to be part of, but need just a bit more assistance. Know exactly what you CAN afford. If your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is more than the cost of tuition, then make sure that your request makes sense. Do your homework and negotiate in good faith.
Be informed. Make sure you have researched the specific financial aid policies at each college before entering into a conversation with them. Don’t contact a college, touting fabulous grades and awesome SAT scores, only to find out that the school offers only need-based financial aid but gives no merit aid awards.
See if the college offers “preferential packaging” – a practice in which they will meet a larger share of financial need based on the academic stats of the student, i.e., stronger grades and test scores will receive more money. Take a look to see if your test scores are in the “middle 50” or in the “top 25.” There will be more money at schools where the student’s scores raise the school’s profile.
Be prepared. Colleges will generally reconsider awards for just two reasons:1) the EFC from the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) was incorrect due to a change in the family’s financial situation because of an illness or unemployment, or 2) there is a competing offer from another college. If you plan to mention the competing offer, be prepared to fax a copy of the award letter to the financial aid office.
Ask about “second chance” or conditional aid. See if the college is willing to add any additional aid if you complete senior year with straight A’s.
Send a letter. Put all of your reasons down in writing and ask for a follow-up meeting, in person if possible or by phone.
Stay cordial and don’t become desperate or melodramatic. Any college that accepted you will now want to do what it can to help you enroll. Respectfully assure the financial aid officer that this is your first choice for college and ask if they can help you to make this a viable option for your family. It never hurts to ask!