“We Went From $0 to $24,000 in Merit Aid Just For Asking”

Woman holding out cupped palms with crumpled $100 bills inside.

“We Went From $0 to $24,000 in Merit Aid Just For Asking”

Published January 16, 2024

Woman holding out cupped palms with crumpled $100 bills inside.

Everyone has said that colleges are businesses, and it’s certainly true. Recently a member of our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group, Allie Tolbert, shared her daughter’s experience appealing merit aid, and it touched a nerve with other parents in the group. Too often we’re told to just accept what we’re told at face value, but sometimes asking, and then asking again (politely), can make all the difference. 

Here’s how Tolbert’s daughter went from $0 to $24,000 in merit aid simply for being diligent and following through on her instincts. 

“We don’t qualify for financial aid, and because my daughter was aiming for top 20 programs, we knew she wouldn’t be offered merit if accepted.

Fast forward six months. She was rejected from every top 20 she applied to and offered little to no merit at many of the top 100 schools where she was accepted.

Eventually, she narrowed down her options to three schools: the University of Miami (UM), American University (AU), and Loyola Marymount (LMU). Thanks to the advice from other parents in the Paying for College 101 Facebook Group, we knew how to ask for more merit. 

Asking For More Merit Aid Requires Patience and Diligence

American initially offered her $0 merit. When my daughter reached out to admissions to ask for merit, they said she had already been considered and sent her to financial aid. Financial aid said we didn’t qualify (which we already knew) and sent her back to admissions. 

My daughter didn’t stop because she was confident she qualified for some merit. She was accepted as a Global Scholar and everything we had read said she should have received some merit. She pushed nicely and professionally until finally, she received an official merit appeal link form from her admissions officer. In less than 24 hours, American awarded her $24k per year in merit. We were shocked! She went from $0 to $24k at a school that is known to not offer any merit. 

But wait, the story doesn’t end there….

She then took that award to LMU and asked if they could match the overall price as American was now slightly less expensive than LMU. She was initially awarded a $16,500  scholarship per year from LMU, so we aren’t expecting much more, if any, but they quickly responded and said they’d see what they could do and she’d have an answer by May 1.

My Best Advice For Students Considering Appealing For More Merit Aid

Here is what I would suggest if your family finds itself in a similar situation: 

  • Have your child reach out to the admissions officer with a heartfelt and genuine note. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be genuine and kind. 

My daughter had read online that American offers merit to the top 15 percent of accepted students. Her Global Scholars acceptance letter said she was in the top 5 percent of students, so she sent those facts along with her senior year, first-semester transcript showing an increased GPA and an even higher class rank since applying back in November.

  • Let schools know about comparable offers. 

My daughter listed all of her offers, including what her in-state tuition is at the University of South Carolina (USC) and Clemson University with her state scholarships and small merit at USC. She was also offered a full tuition scholarship plus a study abroad stipend from Drake University and hefty scholarships at James Madison University and Arizona State University and all had a cost that was way less than American. She also listed her acceptances at higher-ranking schools that were the same price as American and relayed why American was a better fit and what she’d bring to her peers on campus.

  • Don’t expect any additional merit to make a huge difference. We know we are a full-pay family so we are thankful for even $2,000 a year in additional money.
  • Be OK with “no” as an answer. UM couldn’t care less and told her it is what it is. See ya, UM!  
  • Out of consideration for people’s time, don’t request merit from schools you aren’t likely to attend. But also be OK with not accepting any additional awards. 

While my daughter loves American and the “Global Scholars” program, she found her people at LMU when we visited. She turned down American for LMU but without the great merit from American she would have been less confident asking for more from LMU.

UPDATE: LMU came back with an additional $2,000 per year and an invite to their Honors College. We are pleased. Any amount is great and less money we have to pay.” — Allie Tolbert, Paying for College 101 Facebook Group member

Join this conversation and others with parents just like you by joining our Paying for College Facebook Group for free.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Successful Financial Aid Appeal Letter (with Free Templates)

Sample Financial Aid Appeal Letters

How to Play the College Waiting Game to Maximize Merit




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