The average financial aid package for students applying to colleges is worth more than $20,000 per student. If the offer that you receive is much less, you can ask that it be reconsidered and ask them to increase your financial aid package.
In any regular year, asking a college for more financial aid tends to follow a well-defined process. You appeal to the college administrator, providing information about why the financial aid offer is inadequate, detailing exactly how much more you need in order to be able to attend school.
College financial aid budgets have a certain amount of wiggle room, and your request for an increased amount may be granted.
More >> How financial aid is calculated
The effect of the pandemic on financial aid
However, with the pandemic wreaking havoc on the financial lives of large numbers of families, more students than ever need larger sums of financial aid. This is limiting the ability of colleges to respond to student appeals for help.
In addition, students are applying without really knowing what they’re signing up for — online or in-person classes or a mix of both. If they know they’ll be online next year, many might choose to stay at home, reducing costs related to room and board. They might even choose to defer until such time as classes are once again offered in person.
The schools themselves are dealing with high levels of uncertainty as well. Many colleges are making use of algorithms to calculate aid offers, and to predict how students and their families are likely to respond to those offers. They also have no way to predict how many students will decide to take a year off or even switch schools because of the pandemic.
Most colleges that would normally require students to apply by May 2020 have offered extensions to June, and later. If you need to ask for more financial aid, it’s important to do so now.
Amid the chaos, a new service has come up that is able to help students decide how much they’ll pay for college, and how they can ask to pay less.
Transparency in college costs can help
TuitionFit is a service that asks students to share their financial aid award letters with them in exchange for seeing offers other applicants with similar financial backgrounds have received. The online platform wants to bring transparency to real prices that colleges cost, instead of the “crazy high sticker prices that very few students actually pay.”
Students usually have no idea what awards the schools they’re applying to are offering other applicants with similar merit profiles. They can point to the information on TuitionFit when they ask that their financial aid package be reconsidered.
The reason this model can let students and families influence how much a college charges was addressed by Mark Salisbury, the cofounder and CEO of TuitionFit. “What the public doesn’t know is that there are now far more seats in college than there are students to fill them—and in the next few years, the number of high school seniors graduating each year will begin to decline steadily for almost a decade,” he explains. “That means that the public should have some power to influence prices—if they have the information.”
The success of the TuitionFit model depends on having hundreds of thousands of students volunteering their award letters to display on the site. So far, the service only has a few thousand. Still, there have been student success stories, with one saving over $10,000 per year by using the platform’s information to apply to a less expensive school.
Appealing for an increase in financial aid
Once you send in your appeal, don’t pay your deposit until the last possible moment. Even then, it would make sense to ask for an extension. The longer you wait, the more time you give the schools at the top of your shortlist to come up with a plan for how much you will pay.
Sometimes colleges fall short of their enrollment goals, and may be desperate enough to offer you a bigger aid package. When you have a great aid offer from one school, you’re likely to even be able to parlay it into a bigger offer from another school that you like better.
How to draft an appeal that works
Your appeal letter asking to increase financial aid could end up easing your burden by thousands of dollars. It’s a good idea, then, to put careful thought into it. Remember there is no reason to believe that a college will withdraw its offer simply because they realize you are finding it hard to pay. Colleges are for-profit organizations, and are open to negotiations.
The letter will need to include specific information about your family’s finances and ability to pay. Since students can’t be expected to be intimately familiar with the finances of their parents, it makes sense to have your parents involved in writing the appeal letter.
The goal of the letter should be to set out how your family’s income and assets are inadequate to pay for your college education, considering the critical expenses that your parents must meet.
Provide details of financial pressures at home including:
- the loss of a job
- significant medical bills
- child care expenses
- expenses related to siblings who also attend college
- expenses to do with supporting elderly family members
Include documentation to prove that your family is making do with a lower income level, or with added expenses.
Your letter should specify exactly how much additional financial assistance you require. It isn’t usually enough to make open-ended requests.
Finally, it’s important to appeal for the right kind of financial aid. Not every school offers merit-based scholarships. The Ivy League schools, for instance, only offer need-based scholarships. You need to word your appeal correctly to ask for aid that applies to your case. A courteous, well-documented appeal letter can help you persuade your school of choice to increase their offer of financial aid.