How to eke out more aid for college

If your first choice college offers everything you want but the price tag is making you waver, consider appealing the college financial aid office for more money. While colleges and universities won’t encourage it, you are within bounds. Individual financial aid officers are empowered to make adjustments if deemed warranted.

If you plan to pursue an appeal with the financial aid office, be prepared with the following:

▪  First rule if possible, try NOT to deposit until you’ve settled the financial aid discussion. Once they have your money, colleges will be less motivated to reel you in with a better deal.

▪  Be realistic. Gail Holt, Dean of Financial Aid at Amherst College ( says: “Be realistic about what you – and the college – can contribute. Show the college that this is a partnership that you want to be part of, but need just a bit more assistance.”

▪ Know exactly what you CAN afford, but be honest here. If your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is more than the cost of tuition, then make sure that your request makes sense. Do your homework and negotiate in good faith.

▪  Be informed. Make sure you have researched the specific financial aid policies at each college before entering into a conversation with them. Nothing would be more damaging than contacting a college, touting your child’s fabulous grades, awesome SAT scores and requesting merit aid, only to find out that that school doesn’t award merit aid. End of discussion.

▪ Check out if the colleges you’re considering offer “preferential packaging” – it’s a practice where they will meet a larger share of financial need based on the academic stats of your child, i.e., stronger grades and test scores will receive more money.

Take a look to see if your child’s test scores are in the “middle 50” or in the “top 25.” There will be more money at schools where their scores raise the school’s profile. You can also check out some fascinating financial aid statistics including what percentage of need colleges typically meet, at College Data (

▪ Be prepared. Colleges will generally reconsider awards for just two reasons:1) the EFC from the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) was incorrect due to a change in the family’s financial situation because of an illness, unemployment or 2) there is a competing offer from another college. If you plan to mention the competing offer be prepared to fax a copy of the award letter to the financial aid office.

▪ Ask about “second chance” or conditional aid. See if the college is willing to add any additional aid if your child pulls through senior year with straight A’s.

▪ Send a letter. Put all of your reasons down in writing and ask for a follow-up meeting, in person if possible or by phone.

▪ Stay cordial and don’t become desperate or melodramatic.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;
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