Appealing Financial Aid: For Some It Works

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Appealing Financial Aid: For Some It Works

Here’s the scenario: Your student receives merit aid for college, but you wish it had been more.

Even just a bit more. You’ve also received need based aid, but if the merit aid had been higher it would eliminate some financial stress.

Did you know that you can ask for more?

Yes, you can appeal, and sometimes colleges actually come through with more aid.

 

How One Family Handled Their Financial Aid Appeal

Feel weird about asking? Don’t. It’s worked for many parents in our Facebook group Paying For College 101.

Take Kathy Yodice’s story about her son, Kyle.

Kyle decided in high school that he wanted to study education and become a teacher. His number one choice for a college was St. Joseph’s College in New York.

“He was always an excellent student in all subjects until New York pushed through the Common Core curriculum, and then he struggled in math,” Kathy said. “He was never a good test taker so he scored poorly on the SAT and ACT. He took the ACT twice since that one is not as math focused as the SAT. He scored below a 20 both times.”

Kyle’s GPA was around 3.6. He participated in several extracurricular activities, and he was the Italian Club president. He volunteered, too, at the local library. But he didn’t take any honors or AP classes, do dual enrollment, or participate in sports.

Like many parents, Kathy researched colleges using the “College Search” feature on The College Board website

Kyle’s guidance counselor recommended that he apply to eight schools including out-of-state ones. He decided to apply to seven including the local community college.

Kyle was accepted to six with merit offered at most including two private schools. But he still really wanted to attend St. Joseph’s, where the yearly tuition was about $29,000 before any deductions.

“SJC offered him 31 percent of the cost of attendance (COA) as merit even though his test scores did not warrant any scholarship at all, at least according to the school’s website,” Kathy said.

One thing Kyle did do that possibly helped to propel his scholarship? He interacted frequently with the college’s admissions representative and attended their open house.

“He had tons of ‘demonstrated interest’ and this combined with his overall resume was enough for them to offer him a scholarship,” Kathy said.

 

Asking For More Aid

Although this was a good deal, Kathy, who has a relative who works in college finance, advised her to appeal the merit offer.

Armed with the offers from other colleges she took the plunge and reached out to the admissions representative.

“I had also been told to always call with your request, and do not send it in writing,” Kathy said. “I have to say that I was a little nervous and it took me while to get my nerve up to make the call, but I’m glad that I did!”

She initially thanked the admissions representative for the offer of merit and told him how excited her son was to attend the school.

“I let him know that St. Joseph’s College has always been Kyle’s #1 choice and we would love to allow him to attend, but needed help ‘closing the gap’,” Kathy said.

To her surprise, he said he would review the offer, but cautioned that the increase may not be a lot because he didn’t want the family’s “need” to be decreased. “I told him that ‘any little bit would help’,” Kathy said.

She offered to send Kyle’s mid-year transcript to show how full his senior year was and his high grades. But the rep said all he needed was an email stating that the college was Kyle’s first choice but the merit gap needed to be closed. She didn’t even have to mention Kyle’s other offers from colleges.

Two days later, Kyle received an email say that his merit aid had been increased by $3,000 a year, which was 42 percent of COA.

“We both sent ‘thank you’ emails to the school,” Kathy said. “Kyle accepted the offer and declined all of the other schools.”

 

How Do You Appeal For More Merit Aid?

Your student should make sure all acceptances and offers of merit scholarship aid has been received before making a request for more money from any college.

Once received, you and your student should calculate how much more funding is needed, compare the awards and create a plan to ask the student’s top choices for more money. If additional money is received, the student should be prepared to accept the offer.

There are three types of appeals for merit aid.

  • First, an appeal can be made if a family’s financial situation has changed.
  • Second, a financial gap remains after all awards from the schools have been offered.
  • Lastly, a student can appeal if they have received a better offer from another college and wants to ask another school to match that offer or at least try.

[Here’s how to write a successful financial aid appeal letter]

Regardless of how crass it may seem to ask for more money, parents and students should never be afraid to appeal.

One parent in our Paying For College 101 Facebook group posted a story similar to Kathy’s.

This parent’s daughter called the department head of her first choice school. She was honest and said she couldn’t afford it. He asked for financial aid packages from the other schools where she was accepted. Because of that action, she received an additional $3,000 a year.

Jill Sullivan, another parent in our group, said that her son’s ACT score was only one or two points below the requirement for the Presidential Scholarship.

He was attending community college through an early college high school program. He sent that transcript to the college, and they agreed to give him $5,000 more per year.

“The worst they can say is no,” Jill said.

 

Do Colleges Want You Appealing Financial Aid?

Before asking for an appeal or as some college financial experts recommend calling it “a reconsideration,” research to see if the college allows requests for appealing financial aid.

Some don’t. Others have specific guidelines for an appeal process. Others will consider any request.

Search a college’s admissions and financial aid pages to see if they offer any advice.

For example, Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Penn., notes on their website: “If you think a bigger financial aid package is warranted based on your family’s financial situation, please submit the appeal in writing, stating the basis for the appeal and providing as much detail as possible regarding the specifics of your family’s financial circumstances. We carefully review and respond to all written appeals.”

A few more tips about asking for more merit aid include:

  • Ask for reconsideration in writing before sending in a commitment deposit.
  • Don’t ask for a specific amount.
  • Tell the college about new significant academic or extracurricular achievements, an appeal is the perfect time to do so.
  • Don’t be shy about telling the college about other offers as it could give context to your particular situation.

Kathy said that she hopes her story helps other parents and students to shoot for the stars when it comes to merit aid.

“I share our story whenever possible and encourage all parents to place this call to appeal before accepting any offer,” Kathy said. 

“I think it’s important to advise that this should really only be done with one school at a time, and the student should be prepared to accept the offer if it comes through. Having a school go through these extra steps only to have the student go elsewhere is not recommended.”

CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT

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 PAYING FOR COLLEGE 101

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Suzi Parker

Suzi Parker

Suzi is an award-winning political and cultural journalist and author whose works have appeared in The Daily Beast, The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor, Reuters, The Washington Post, Town & Country, US News & World Report, and many other national and international publications.
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