How to Receive More Aid from a College

Congratulations, the hard part is over. Your child has run the gauntlet of high school, filled out college applications, and has been offered admission to a college. Can you afford their top choice colleges?

Many schools – especially private ones – can offer substantial financial and merit aid packages, and may be able to make adjustments after the fact if families simply ask.

It’s worth your time to reach out to admissions and financial aid offices. You may be surprised at just how many colleges will try to incentivize a student to enroll with a few extra thousand dollars if that’s the only barrier to entry for that family.

Schools may award additional aid when families present new information (like updated test scores or current high school grades) or may make adjustments to need-based aid when a family’s income or employment situation changes.

Here are some tips to consider when asking for additional aid.

  1.  Don’t deposit right away. Once you make an enrollment deposit, that school assumes your student is coming for the fall and doesn’t have a lot of motivation to continue to try and “yield” them. The national deposit deadline is May 1, and some schools even have an internal grace period after that date. There’s usually no need to deposit before May 1 and when a college is “short” on deposits, the closer they get to May 1 the more pressure they feel to “make their class.” Use depositing as leverage!
  2.  Get in touch with the right office! Financial aid may have nothing to do with scholarship and only work on need-based aid packages. Similarly, the admissions may have nothing to do with departmental aid and only deal with scholarship. Try to understand that the college is like a hand and the various administrative offices are like fingers – they can move independently of one another or in unison. Get the lay of the land and find out which office you need to contact to discuss the various pieces of your student’s aid package. Admissions may be able to guarantee an additional several thousand dollars per year in scholarship, and if there were circumstances that were not considered when filling out need-based aid paperwork, the financial aid office may be able to offer additional grant funds. It pays to call around.
  3.  You’re not buying a house, you’re investing in an education for your student. Don’t treat it like a negotiation! Ask for a “reassessment” or “reconsideration” of the student’s aid package, but only AFTER acknowledging and appreciating any aid that was previously awarded. Again, be prepared to submit additional information, usually from a third party. Did you have a change in your family’s expenses? Job loss? Medical bills? Pay cut? That may inform the route you take and which office can help.
  4.  Be realistic. If your student didn’t qualify for scholarship or need-based aid at all, the admissions office may not be able to offer any after the fact. Similarly, if they qualified for a lower-tier award, they may not be able to package them at a top-tier scholarship level. Asking for additional aid in the $1,000 – $5,000 range will likely yield better results than asking for an additional $20,000. Most colleges package students with aid expecting families to be able to contribute, even if it’s just a little bit. Asking for a “full ride” when your student hasn’t earned it likely isn’t going to happen.
  5.  Show them another offer. It’s OK to tell colleges that your student has options. Colleges may be able to match the award offer from another institution, but the key here is to present offers from similar institutions. A college likely isn’t going to “match down” to another institution – meaning, a top-tier school probably has no motivation to match an offer from a less-competitive institution. Your student might be a stellar admit at a school with a high admit rate and weak rankings, but middle of the road at a premier institution. They’re different institutions. That’s why they award different aid amounts in the first place.

Ultimately, it’s up to you and your student to reach out and ask for additional aid if you need it. Be prepared and make a strong case when asking for help!

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