Improving Your Financial Aid Package


By Claudine Vainrub, College and Graduate School Counselor

After months of preparing essays, a résumé and the many requirements for your college and graduate school admissions process, you might think all work is done. You’ve sent out your college and financial aid applications, and now the replies are starting to roll in. All your requests for financial aid have been accepted, but there’s one little problem—not one of the offers is anywhere near enough to cover your predicted expenses for attending college. What do you do?

Here’s the good news—when you get acceptances into schools, almost all of them really want you to choose to attend their school and will do whatever they can within their own budgets to make it possible for all serious students—not just the ones able to afford it—to attend. If the financial aid package you were offered is not enough to cover your impending expenses, you can appeal and possibly get it increased.

Before starting the appeal process, there are some important factors to keep in mind. First and foremost, you must be totally honest with the information you supply. At every step of the application and appeal process, transparency is imperative. You will also be wise to remember that you are appealing the financial aid offer rather than negotiating it. Financial aid counselors are experts in their field and respond more openly to those who show respect for their position.
Your first step to appealing a financial aid offer is to visit the school’s website to see if they have a specific appeal procedure or online form to complete this process. Once this is done, it is recommended that you contact the school by phone, email or letter. Contacting the financial aid department, as well as the admissions department in order to divulge your situation is advisable. Remember that the staff is to be respected and appreciated. Showing your human side while explaining the strain of your situation will allow them to connect with you on a personal level, and empathize with you. When exposing your needs, communicate your appreciation for the school’s initial offer while explaining that you would love to attend their prestigious school, but this will not be possible with what you have been offered in financial aid. It is imperative to send a follow-up email that summarizes discussed facts in order for the college representative to take your appeal process to the next level.
Universities run on a tight budget, but often there is flexibility in their spending. You will probably find that you receive different financial aid offers from different schools. This can work in your favor. It is not uncommon to explain that you have received a more favorable offer when discussing your financial aid package with a particular school. If the school really wants you to attend and they have available funds to support you, they could decide to make the effort to match or even surpass the other offer.

Recent successes might play an important role in drawing attention once again to your candidacy. There are many instances in which students receive special awards or achieve special goals after having gained admission to the school of their choice. If this is your case, be ready to update your student résumé and send it along with your financial package appeal letter. It is important for the admissions and financial aid staff to learn about your recent achievements to accurately reassess your situation, and the opportunity to provide you a new financial package offer.

Finally, be aware of when there is a genuine chance of a successful appeal and when it is likely to have no effect at all. In her article in the U.S. News and World Report, Lynn O’Shaughnessy writes that private colleges and flagship universities tend to have more flexibility in how much money they can award in financial aid, whereas public institutions are under the restraints of federal and state funding, so are less likely to increase their financial aid offers.
It is better to prepare well in advance to receive the highest possible financial aid offers so you can avoid the appeal procedure entirely. With enough advanced planning, there are many steps parents can take while their child is still in high school, or even earlier, that will increase the student’s chances of a healthy financial aid package when the time comes for them to go to college. However, if you are already in the middle of the process, you might end up not finding the offer you wish for at your most desirable school. But with so many great educational choices in the U.S., the opportunity to identify great institutions that fit your educational and pocket needs is there. Seek and you shall find!