Excited for college admissions? Great! Now learn how to navigate merit aid awards.
Now that students are receiving their financial need-based and merit scholarship awards, it is important to look at the fine print. Colleges typically lump together grant aid, which is money that does not need to be paid back, with loans. When comparing awards, it is important to compare grants to grants and exclude loans from the comparison to truly evaluate which colleges are offering the best financial packages. Once you do this, you might find that your preferred college offered less than others. Here are five steps you can take to try to increase your award.
1. Identify a contact in the financial aid office at the college in question.
By establishing a relationship with one person in the office, you know you have someone who understands your situation and who you can go to with follow-up questions as you decide where to matriculate, and throughout your four years of college if you end up attending.
2. Determine how much more aid you will need per year in order to make it possible for you to attend this college.
Don’t ask for a larger grant or merit award just because you received more money from another college. For the most part, college financial aid officers are not interested in hearing about other offers and sometimes this can hurt the discussion—this is not a negotiation. Instead, work with your parents on a budgeting exercise and determine how much more you need to make this school a possibility for you. Then ask for that amount.
Let the student be the main point of contact when discussing their financial needs with the college.
3. Cite any out-of-the-ordinary reasons that you need additional aid.
If your father has been laid off, your grandmother has entered an assisted living facility that your parents are helping to pay for, or your younger sister has had extraordinary medical expenses for a recent illness, then tell the financial aid officer and follow it up in writing. Many colleges have a form on their website that you are asked to complete for an aid appeal so look for that.
4. The student should make an appointment or call the financial aid contact with a parent.
While finances are often the parents’ responsibility, the college will appreciate that the student is involved. It is best to try to make an appointment with the financial aid contact after you have submitted their requested form or sent information in an email. Let them know you were excited to be accepted and want to attend, but are concerned about unmet need, too many loans or a smaller merit award than makes it feasible for you to attend (whichever of these scenarios applies). Of course, be very polite and patient. A parent should be nearby and also speak with the financial aid officer if necessary.
If the college outlined a process and timeline for responding about the financial aid or merit award, be sure to adhere to those guidelines. Good luck!
Another helpful resource for college pricing and other financial and merit aid topics is Tuition Fit.