Three out of my four oldest kids’ term bills for the spring semester either had errors or revealed opportunities to save significant amounts of money.
All week I’ve been on a full-time mission righting wrongs, physically accompanying my kids to their college’s financial aid offices (bearing boxes of Munchkins for the financial aid staff), making phone calls (since my children seem to be hitting roadblocks on their own), and sending emails with screenshots of various documentation.
And I confess, I’ve been annoying my kids to no end about following up.
But I’m doing whatever it takes to afford four kids in college at the same time, knowing I have two more kids still at home with future college plans.
Mistakes on Bills are Common
Evidently, mistakes on term bills are common. Carefully go line by line looking at your child’s term bill. Make sure that unnecessary fees aren’t popping up, extra insurance you don’t need isn’t billed for, and that scholarship or grant displacement isn’t happening, making what you owe higher than it needs to be. Check it carefully.
I’m serious when I urge you to appeal or argue anything and everything that displaces scholarship funds. Even if the college has a no stacking or a last-dollar in policy for their institutional scholarships, it is probably worth the fight to you and your pocketbook, but it might not be worth the fight to them, especially not right before winter break. If they’ve got some funding flexibility towards the year end anyway, you might get farther than you expect simply by being kindly persistent.
Help Your Student Become an Advocate
Let your student advocate on their own at first, but don’t let them hang themself. Be willing to quickly step in when your student is hitting roadblocks that impact your money. (That means taking action within hours, not days when they need help.)
Alternatives to Federal Loans
At my kids’ (admittedly wonderful) colleges, three out of four of their financial aid offices really push and promote the Federal Student Loan as the first-tier, go-to solution for any and every funding shortfall. They offer and propose taking the loan before they let me know about any private-donor funds, corporate grants, or scholarships that my children may qualify for. This is not just at one school, or just in one state.
So far I’ve seen this practice at three colleges in two separate states just this year alone. So who are the students who get these available but not publicized scholarships, grants, and funds? I’m willing to bet it’s the students who ask for them, the ones who email and call asking to speak with the Financial Aid Supervisor, and the students who show up in the aid office with their mama.
Applying for Need-Based Aid
Apply for need-based aid, even if you’re almost positive you won’t qualify. Ask for any departmental scholarships.
Ask if the Director of Financial Aid has a discretionary fund, even if it’s December 19th and you’re almost positive all funding is going to be long gone. This is actually the perfect time to ask. A broken clock is right twice a day, and you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. These maxims advocate ignoring the odds and at least trying, which has worked wonders for us.
My Results (So Far)
Just a few hours ago my oldest got word that he is being awarded just enough funding to zero out his balance for the spring term. He won’t need to take out an emergency, last-minute loan. We don’t know yet if it was merit-based, need-based, or major-based, but we’re grateful. This was the Christmas gift we most wanted this year.
The bigger news is that today my other kid got their scholarship displacement removed! And it’s a game-changer. Now they will have a little refund that can cover the cost of spring semester textbooks and expenses.
That’s good, especially because we expect to be kind of broke by then.
My third kid’s financial aid situation is still pending. Even I am getting the run around with emails and phone calls. The new plan is unorthodox, and not something we’ve tried before.
It was my child’s idea.
We will fully brief my husband and have him go in person to the financial aid office with our student. College stuff is usually my domain; it’s Mommy’s wheelhouse.
But Dad actually has an authoritative, commanding presence. Standing six foot three, built like a retired linebacker with blonde (actually mostly gray) hair, and steely blue eyes, he’s intense, charismatic, and unlikely to be ignored, dismissed, or kept waiting.
Is this fair? No.
Should all of this really be necessary? Absolutely not.
But is it actually necessary? Sometimes.
And is it worth it? Yes, especially if you actually need the money.
This is a broken system. I’m hoping that my tactics will help someone else save money that they can’t afford to lose.
Let me know your thoughts and if you tried these suggestions with any success. I’m rooting for you.
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