Many families don't realize that the financial aid offer their student receives is just that, an offer. You have the option to either accept or deny the offer, and you can also contact the school to negotiate something better.
There are a few different strategies or opportunities you can capitalize on in order to request additional aid for your student. In any case you'll want to make sure you collect all the information you need ahead of time, and contact the admissions office through phone, email and even send a snail mail. Be professional and courteous to the school representative.
Opportunities to Appeal Your Financial Aid
Your Financial Offer Does Not Meet Your Financial Need
When you initially submit the FAFSA, you should have received a number known as your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) that the government believes your family can contribute to college costs. The individual colleges your student applies to use that number to create your financial aid package, which will include government aid if you are eligible for it, as well as grants, scholarships and loans from the college itself.
However, not every college guarantees to meet the full financial need of students. If there is a significant gap between what the school is offering and your EFC you have an opportunity to request additional aid from the college to make it affordable for your student to attend.
Your Family has Experienced a Change in Financial Circumstance
When you fill out the FAFSA you are using last year's data to report your financial circumstance. There are limited opportunities for you to signify a change in circumstance such as a job loss, significant medical expenses, or some other event that has reduced your ability to pay for college. Typically you will have to report such changes to the college at a later point to see if they can adjust your Expected Family Contribution to more accurately reflect your current ability to pay.
Your Offer is Packed Full of Loans
Even if the school has met your student's full financial need the offer could likely be stuffed with loans with very little gift aid such as grants and scholarships. Although loans are considered part of an "aid" package, they are not truly aid from the college, it's just a payment your student makes after they graduate (and after a significant amount of interest has been added to the principle!)
Don't hesitate to contact the college to point out to them the undesirability of your financial aid offer. Ask for some of the loans to be replaced with grants or scholarships.
Appeal Early: Try to get the appeals process in place as early as you can. The admissions office has an incentive to work with you early in the game as it shows your student is heavily interested in the school and will likely attend if you can reach an offer that is acceptable.
Ask the School to Match an Offer: One successful strategy is to ask the school to match an offer from another institution. "College B has given us a financial aid package with $1,500 more in scholarship aid. But we would much rather attend your school. Can you match this offer?"
Offer Additional Information: Scholarships are not always awarded based on grades. Many colleges keep scholarship money in reserve to distribute to students who they believe would be a good fit for their school. Offer additional information about your student that demonstrates why they would be a wonderful addition to the school. They may be eligible for a scholarship that rewards volunteer work, unusual talents or abilities.
Want more? Use College Cost Cutter to analyze and compare all of your college offers, and get all the data you need to appeal your financial aid package.