More money for school: 5 tips for appealing your financial aid award
by Daniel Casciato | August 2, 2011
In a recent study from Maguire Associates and Fastweb.com, thirty-three percent of students who preferred a public education, but enrolled in a private college instead, appealed the initial financial aid offer from their college of choice. As a result, 45 percent received more aid.
"The fact that some students would switch from preferring public colleges to enrolling at a non-profit college was a bit surprising until we analyzed the data to discover that most of the students who switched got generous financial aid packages that came close to equalizing the bottom line cost," says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb.com and FinAid.org.
Cost and quality seem to be the primary drivers of college choice, especially among the students who switched in either direction, notes Kantrowitz.
"Students who switched to public colleges did so because they couldn't afford the more expensive private non-profit colleges," he says. "The percentage getting an adjustment was a bit higher than I expected, but it is consistent with more students demonstrating increased financial need due to parents losing jobs.
Schools.com chatted with some experts who offered advice on how to squeeze those extra dollars from the schools of your choice.
Tip #1: Be honest and polite--never challenge an award.
A financial aid appeal is often mistaken for negotiation. Kantrowitz says it's not like a car dealership, where bluff and bluster can get you a better deal. The process is driven by documentation and information, not smoke and mirrors.
"Also, be honest, as the college financial aid administrator is less likely to grant an adjustment if he or she thinks you are attempting to game the system," he says.
Remember, too, that the colleges have the authority to request whatever information they want in order to consider an appeal, adds Kantrowitz.
"This includes asking for several years of prior tax returns, requiring you to file IRS Form 4506T to get the data directly from the IRS, and requiring you to file an amended federal income tax return if there's a discrepancy between the information on the FAFSA and 1040."
Tip #2: Work directly with your admissions counselor.
It's always in your best interest to develop a relationship with your admissions counselor or another contact person at the university who can go to bat for you and assist in your appeal.
"This should be someone who knows you and not just some random person," says Christopher Cussat, the former associate director of admissions at Duquesne University, a private Catholic university in Pittsburgh, PA. "If you haven't already, meet with someone in admissions and let them get to know you so you're not just a number to them. You need someone in your corner to help you appeal."
While it's best to appeal your award immediately, Cussat says if you can wait up until the school's deposit date, typically May 1, there may be more aid you could receive.
"As it gets closer to the deposit day, and the school realizes they may fall short of their enrollment numbers, they might be more willing to give you more money," he says.
Tip #3: Ask for any available independent awards.
Oftentimes, your admissions counselor can help you unearth other independent awards.
"There can be separate awards for volunteer work or awards for students who are from distressed neighborhoods or counties," says Cussat. "When all else fails, look outside the university, and do some research on your own."
For instance, Cussat says that dependent students should ask if their parents' employer offers aid to students of employees. Also, conduct research online or at your local library's foundation resource center to see what other outside grants you may be eligible for.
Tip #4: Leverage your financial aid offers from other schools.
Richard Stumpf, a financial planner with Financial Benefits Inc. in Wichita, KS, who helps parents plan for college costs, successfully appealed his daughter's award and received an additional $2,500. After receiving the financial aid offers from the schools his daughter applied to, they selected the two best packages, which fortunately included her first choice.
"I spoke with the financial aid officer there and told him that while she preferred his school, another college offered a significantly better award," Stumpf says. "I asked if he could narrow the gap. He reviewed it and called the next day saying there was a $2,500 scholarship available that wasn't awarded yet."
Tip #5: Make yourself more marketable.
Colleges compete to attract the best students. So it's in the student's interest to become more desirable. You can help yourself by getting better grades and getting involved in extracurricular activities.
"If you're a C+ student, have no outside activities, and just show up for class and go home at the end of the day, no school will bend over backwards to help you," Stumpf says. "But if you're a good student and are actively involved--a student who the university highly values--they'll do everything possible to get you to come there."
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