If you are afraid you have to give up your dream school because the financial aid offer wasn’t enough, you shouldn’t give up just yet. You still have the opportunity to appeal for an increase in grants or scholarships. Remember, if you don’t ask, you won’t get anything, so it is to your advantage to ask. Even if the university offered you a scholarship, you could always ask for more. According to a survey, the average financial aid package offered to students with financial needs was $20,494. If your offer was significantly smaller than that, you might be able to appeal it.
The letter to appeal your financial aid offer could be worth more than $10,000 to you, so you should take the time to craft it. You want the letter to either set up a phone call, or if you live close enough, an in-person meeting. Having the opportunity to talk through your situation can help convince the university to give you a more substantial scholarship.
The college will not rescind your offer of acceptance if you ask for more money. You have nothing to worry or lose by asking. Colleges are businesses so that means you can negotiate. Since you have nothing to lose by asking, you can start spending time drafting a thoughtful letter that can show why you should receive more aid.
Who Writes The Letter?
I recommend that the parents write the letter. Many students have little or no knowledge regarding their parents’ financial situation, so it would be difficult for them to expand on the details to the school. Colleges expect the parents to be involved in the financial discussion, therefore it is acceptable for the letter to come from the parent.
What Should I Include In The Letter?
Once you have assessed your current financial situation, you can begin to write the letter. There could be a significant difference between your family’s EFC (Expected Family Contribution) on your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and your ability to pay for college expenses.
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Your goal in this letter needs to show that your current income, assets, and savings cannot cover the cost of attending college. As the FAFSA information is based on two-year-old financial records, many things could have changed since then. Make sure to mention any changes since then that may have changed your ability to pay the EFC.
Some examples could be:
- Job loss of a parent
- New job with lower income
- Death of a spouse
- Any significant financial burden such as outstanding medical bills
- New expenses such as childcare costs, private elementary and secondary school tuition, or ongoing expenses
- Parents attending college
- Multiple children attending college at the same time (including step-children that weren’t included in the original FAFSA application)
- Expenses for elderly grandparents
- Any other significant loss that will impact your family or student
How To Negotiate
- Know Your Number
Before you even write the letter, sit down and figure out how much would it take for you to be able to afford attendance. You must be prepared if they ask. Saying “I don’t know,” or “How much can you offer,” is not acceptable. Look at the numbers and decide what is the minimum the college can offer you for you to attend. What is your bottom line to make this work?
- Don’t Send In Your Deposit Too Soon
As soon as you send in your deposit, the school knows you are committed to attending, so they won’t be nearly as motivated to grant a request to increase a scholarship award. If you ask before you send in your deposit, you can show the school that you still want to attend, but need the financial incentive to make it possible.
- Bring Your Documents
If you can’t provide documentation (i.e., proof) of expenses and reasons why the aid award that was offered is not enough, then don’t even mention these items in your letter or discuss them on the call or meeting.
- Use Other Scholarships As A Negotiation Tool
A scholarship award from another college could be used as a negotiation tool. If you don’t have any special or pressing financial circumstances, but a similarly ranked school offered you more in merit scholarships or grants, you can go back to your number one choice and ask for more money. You can use the other award letters to appeal for more money.
- Request The Right Kind Of Aid
Before you write the letter, remember that some elite schools will only award aid to students who they believe cannot afford tuition. Ivy League schools like Harvard University, Yale University, and Brown University do not offer merit-based scholarships. However, they all do provide need-based scholarships.
- Be Courteous
It literally pays to be polite. When speaking with the administrators, stress that the only obstacle in your path is finances. With a larger scholarship, your child would love to attend. You most likely won’t get your way if you are unpleasant or try to bully or argue with the financial aid administrators. They also are less likely to help if they feel you are trying to game the system.
“Professional Judgment” Letter Example
Dear Financial Aid Director,
I am writing this letter on behalf of Caroline Smith’s admission into the University of Chicago. Caroline’s first choice university is, and always has been, the University of Chicago. However, the only thing holding her back from accepting the offer and sending in her deposits is finances. I would like to have the opportunity to explain my situation in greater detail based on recent developments that have negatively affected my financial situation.
My mother – Caroline’s grandmother – has recently had to move into our home due to a worsening case of dementia. She is no longer able to care for herself, so we decided to have her move into our home. While we are grateful that we get to spend more time with her, there have been many unexpected expenses associated with this move. She is unable to climb stairs or use the bathroom without aid, so we have had to put in many expensive additions to our home, such as a ramp, and remodel our bathroom to make it easier for her to use. This situation has had a significant impact on our finances.
In addition, we have two other children; one of which is attending college at Baylor University as a senior this year. Our youngest child will be applying for colleges next year, so that will be another financial burden.
Lastly, Caroline’s mother, unfortunately, lost her job at the start of the new year due to layoffs at her company. We are currently living on just one salary, and since my wife is nearing retirement age, she has not had any luck in finding a new position.
Caroline was fortunate enough to get a scholarship from Vanderbilt University for $27,000 a year, renewable for four years. This is one of five merit-based scholarships she has received. However, due to our current financial situation, we would hate to turn down a substantial scholarship, although it is has been Caroline’s dream to attend the University of Chicago since she was a young girl.
I would like to set up a phone call with your office to discuss our financial needs further. We can provide proof and documentation of our current financial situation if needed. Thank you very much for your time, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.