M.G. of Glen Head, NY writes:
My daughter got into her first choice college [Yea!
]. Her financial aid award, however, left much to be desired. Can we -- and should we -- ask the college for more money? The College Whisperer™ responds:
There's an old adage, as true in college financing as it is in fundraising: "If you don't ask, you won't get."
schools base financial aid awards on a number of factors, which could
include merit (i.e., GPA, test scores) and, more often than not, need.
are formulae -- sometimes intricate and mystical, other times, rather
simple and straightforward -- based on such things as the student's FAFSA EFC
(Expected Family Contribution) -- and awards typically consist of
scholarships/grants, work-study and loans, or any combination thereof.
colleges will meet the full need of the student. So, if tuition, room
and board is, say $30,000, and the EFC is $10,000, the award will cover
the difference of $20,000.
Other schools will cover, by way of scholarships, work-study and loans, the full nut, regardless of EFC.
other schools -- and this is common among elite colleges, who feel they
don't have to give you money in order to entice you to come -- will
give most students very little, if anything.
The bottom line, of
course, is that financial aid awards vary greatly from school to
school, and even from student to student at the same college. The merits
of such awards, then, must be judged on a case by case basis.
you are fortunate enough to get a full ride (as in scholarships or
grants covering the total cost, none of which has to be paid back),
you've got it made in the shade.
Even without the college picking
up the tab, scholarships (including those offered by the school and those you apply for on your own) can, conceivably, make up the lion's
share of college costs. If you've been diligent in searching and
applying for scholarships (even the smaller ones), chances are you can and will bank some cash
for college. [Remember what the late Senator Everett Dirkson once said: "A million dollars here and a million dollars there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money!"
Today, of course, that would be billions
, not millions
students, however, are faced with the prospect of a huge tuition bill,
with little (if anything) in free scholarship money [you should have
called College Connection
and an "offer" of the opportunity to take out federal student loans
(Stafford), private student loans, and parent (PLUS) loans.
If there is some free money on the table, or even none at all, can you -- and should you -- ask for more (or for some?)
What's the worst thing that can happen? The college will say no.
At best, you may actually get more than you had hoped for.
Most college financial aid offices have a formal policy regarding the "appeal"
financial aid awards. Some require a letter, or formal documentation
evidencing change in circumstances (i.e., divorce, death, loss of
employment). Others, less formally, will consider requests over the
phone or even by e-mail.
Appealing the financial aid award, while
not an exact science, by any means, is definitely an art form. Begging,
pleading and groveling will generally get you nowhere. [Of course, if
all else fails, why not?] Be armed with a factual basis as to why you or
your child needs or deserves more money. Do play one school's award
against that of another school. [Often, this ploy falls on deaf ears,
but hey, if they really want you that badly...] Have a number in mind,
as you will likely be asked, though not always directly, "How much do
you need? And if you need or want an additional $5000, ask for $10,000.
Remember, when reaching for the stars you first have to get by the
If at all possible, negotiate the financial aid award before
you accept the college's offer of admission. Again, if the school
really wants the student, they may make concessions. On the other hand,
if there are 1000+ applicants in the dreaded, no-man's land known as the
waitlist, don't get your hopes up too high.
As the refrain from The Gambler
"Know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away.
And know when to run..." While you can often get more money (or at least
some money) from your college of choice, sometimes -- particularly in a
tough economy -- you really can't get blood from a stone. Give it a
try, but, if you do not get as much as you want or need, be prepared
(financially and psychologically) to either accept the offer or to walk
(or run) away.
Understand that what may seem like a dream school could easily turn into a nightmare of debt, and no college [let me repeat, NO COLLEGE
is worth saddling yourself with debt that will take the next 20 years
(or more) to repay, while forgoing such other niceties of life, such as
food and shelter!
There are colleges out there, mind you, that are using YOUR
money to pay for campuses in Dubai and Shanghai -- like you (or they)
really need them. There are others that, aside from making your $2000
deposit non-refundable, will also not apply it toward tuition, room,
board or anything else that might directly benefit you.
as enticing as it may be, to ego and psyche, to say "yes" to such
schools, it may well be more satisfying in the long run -- not to
mention more financially rewarding -- to say, "thanks but no thanks,"
opting for a fine (sometimes better) academic education at a college
that is truly more affordable.
I am often bemused at the number
of students (not to mention parents) who drool over schools like
Columbia and NYU, with their absurdly astonishing price tags, while
giving short-shrift to colleges of the State University or City
University of New York. That is, until they are told that, over the
years, there have been more successful (money being only one of the
attributes) graduates of SUNY and CUNY than from all of the Ivies
combined! [Yes, like college acceptance rates, it's a numbers game. But
given the legions of SUNY and CUNY grads out there, in all fields and at
the pinnacle, just think of the connections and the networking
Even among private universities, there are true values and real bargains. [College Connection
and their parents already know this!] Seek and ye shall find, rather
than take the word of, say, the President of Sarah Lawrence College (the
most expensive college in the country), that the school is "worth every penny."
[We're sure she feels the same way about her exorbitant salary, as well!]
college you decide upon, especially when cost is a factor, to
paraphrase JFK, never fear to negotiate, but never negotiate out of
Above all, for goodness sake, do the math (even if you intend to be an English major), and get the very best bang for your buck!
Plan. Prepare. Prevail!
The views and opinions expressed
in this blog are solely those of The College
Who knows what peril lurks in the
college application and admissions process? The College
™ knows. . .
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