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Financial aid awards...Is it OK to ask for more?

As college and universities send financial aid and merit scholarship packages, families often wonder if the award can be appealed.

Sometimes receiving an acceptance letter is just the first step in making attending the college of your choice a reality. Paying for college can be just as stressful (if not more) than applying and getting in.

If you’re applying for financial aid at private schools, you’ve likely filed the CSS Profile by now and have begun completing the FAFSA form, due next month. Most financial aid awards are released in March, even for early action applicants. Scholarship awards are often included in acceptance letters, for any application program, or can be sent later once the committee has a chance to review all scholarship-caliber applications.

During my time as an admission counselor, I received countless phone calls at this time of the year from parents appealing for an increased award. Some parents were aggressive in their pitch, but most frequently parents would sound almost embarrassed, like they were doing something wrong.

It is absolutely OK to call or write to admissions/financial aid and appeal your award. The worst a school can do is say ‘no.’ Really. Asking will in no way impact an admission decision (they can’t rescind your admission just because you asked for more money), however, there are ways to ask that are more appropriate than others. This is not a time to try to “wheel and deal” with your child’s admission counselor (“Just give us $5,000 more and we’ll mail the deposit check today,” or “I’m sure we can work something out. If not, I’m mailing a check to insert-other-university-name-here.”)

Here are some tips:

1. If you are calling about additional financial aid (grants, etc), call the financial aid office. They handle all awards and packages.

2. If you have questions about increasing your child’s merit scholarship (or want to know why the didn’t receive one), call admissions and try to speak with the admission counselor for your child’s high school.

3. When asking about not receiving a merit scholarship, nicely ask what the criteria was for a scholarship and where your student fell short.

4. Whether a letter or phone call, the most effective way to appeal the award is to ask to have the award and/or scholarship package reviewed again by the Director of Admission or Financial Aid. Each school’s process may be slightly different, but basically you’re asking someone with decision-making power to take another look.

5. It’s OK to mention how much you’ve received from other schools, just be sure that you explain it from a comparison perspective and not as a bargaining chip. It can be helpful for schools to know how much they are competing with/how much it will take to bring offers closer together.

**It’s important to understand that a school’s selectivity plays a big role in how much scholarship money is awarded to your child. He or she may have received a larger scholarship at a less selective school and a small/no scholarship at a more selective school. Don’t expect the more selective school to match the award - they have awarded scholarships based on the competitiveness of their applicant pool.

6. If the school comes back to you and doesn’t adjust the award, thank them for their consideration and drop it. You will rarely get anywhere by pushing and becoming more aggressive.

It’s impossible to determine how often a favorable decision is made on a financial aid appeal, but it does happen. Some schools set aside a pool of award money specifically for families looking for additional aid. If your family falls just outside of qualifying for need-based aid and the student doesn’t qualify for a scholarship, a school may be willing to help because those conditions leave you responsible for paying 100% out of pocket.

As the admissions/financial aid office is conducting the appeal, expect that they will look closely at your family’s EFC from the FAFSA, Profile (if applicable), the student’s grades, and overall applicant pool when making a decision.

Good luck!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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