The college application, admissions and financial aid processes are already confusing enough. Unfortunately, the advice professionals offer about how to negotiate the roadblocks you run is not much less confusing itself. If you get an award package that is less than you think you will need, what can you do? Well, you can negotiate. Right? Yes. And no.
Financial professionals and financial aid experts disagree on what approach to take. In a recent Reuters article, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania financial aid adviser Fred Amrein says that “some colleges will negotiate if you show them a better package from a competitive school. But most will not.” He discourages his clients from appealing their aid awards unless they have financial pressures that don’t show up on their aid forms.
On the other hand, there is a camp of experts that insists on appealing if your aid award is sub-par. A recent article in the Kansas City Star details this school of thought. While the door may be closing on getting the big-dollar awards from college financial aid offices, there is still plenty of money available to help close your gap. And it’s been my experience that if the school really wants your son or daughter, it will try really hard to make it happen. Each school may have its own rules about financial aid appeals or special circumstances reviews, but by and large the financial aid administrator — and not the admissions officer — is the gatekeeper to the funds. With that in mind, your first step should be to contact the financial aid office and express your concerns. Make it clear that the school is your teen’s first choice. Ask if there’s anything the college can do to make tuition more affordable. The college may want to see copies of financial aid award letters from the other schools on your student’s list. They might spot whether there was an honest mistake in the way the aid package was calculated. Administrators have the authority to make adjustments, especially if there are unusual circumstances, such as a job loss or high medical bills.
For example, if a parent recently lost a job, the financial aid office might switch from using last year’s after-tax income figure to an estimate of current year income to determine aid eligibility, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of the FinAid.org and FastWeb.com financial aid websites. Or the school could come up with more money by repackaging the offer to include more loans than grants and scholarships.