College Financial Aid Packages Are Negotiable Weigh Competing Offers, Advise Schools If Situation Changes
If you’re a college-bound student, or a parent of one, you’re probably all too aware of the looming deadline for choosing a school - May 1 in many cases. Part of that decision may rest on which college has offered the best financial aid package.
Did you know that many financial aid offers aren’t final? Experts say you can push for a better deal.
Don Rauf, senior editor of Careers & College, a magazine aimed at high school juniors and seniors, says the first step is to closely compare the aid offers from different schools. Two awards can total the same amount, but one might be preferable because it includes grants that don’t have to be paid back, while the other may be heavy on loans.
Make sure the schools have accurately evaluated the key factors in the award, such as the cost of attending the school, the contribution expected from the family, the difference between that contribution and the school’s costs.
Don’t miss the cutoff date for responding to the aid offer, as that could cause it to be rescinded, Rauf says. Responding doesn’t commit you to attending the school, so do it even if you’re waiting to hear from other colleges.
In your response, you can accept the aid package, accept parts and reject others, or ask that the award be reviewed and altered.
Obviously, a student has better prospects of winning a bigger award if he or she is a hot commodity. So, in making your case for more money, emphasize the positive - the student’s high grades and test scores, athletic prowess or other achievements. And don’t be afraid of noting that another school has made a better offer. Many schools will match it.
Emphasize factors that limit the family’s ability to pay for college - divorce, death, loss of a job, medical expenses or costs for another child, such as one in graduate school. Perhaps a bonus or some other factor temporarily raised the income for the year reported on your aid application. Maybe your financial situation has worsened since you applied.
Be sure you can document your statements, but don’t be shy - no school will withdraw a student’s acceptance just because an aid package is appealed.