It’s an exciting time of year for seniors—acceptance letters are arriving and scholarship award letters and financial aid packages will be following soon! Here’s a little secret to remember as those envelopes arrive: the scholarship offers that schools initially send might not be the best possible offer your teen can get!
Did you know that once your teen receives scholarship offers from colleges, you may actually be able to negotiate for more?
As my daughter was deciding where she would attend college last year, two of the schools she loved offered her scholarships that differed by around $1000 per year. She began to feel that the school offering the smaller scholarship was a better fit for her, but she didn’t want to say no to more money. In the end, one short email was all it took and within a few days the admissions office at her preferred school contacted us to let us know that they had found an additional $1000 per year for her.
With one 5 minute email, we earned four thousand tax-free dollars. Over 4 years, that equates to almost an entire year of dorm room costs, or around three years of student meal plans!
So exactly how does it work? Let’s get down to business:
Put it in Writing
You might think that a phone call is more personal, but if you put it in writing you have a record of your request (and their response!). We chose to send an email to the admissions office, and for good measure included a phone number and expressed that we would be happy to speak with anyone who could help.
Choose the Right Words
Your letter or email doesn’t have to be lengthy or complicated. Express that their school is your teen’s first choice, but their decision must also be dependent on what makes financial sense for your family so you are seeking additional funds to make it possible. State clearly and succinctly the reasons you are requesting more money and that you would be grateful for any addition help they can provide.
Justify Your Request
There are two main circumstances that are most likely to qualify your teen for more financial aid or scholarship money:
•There is a significant difference in your family’s EFC (Expected Family Contribution) on your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and your actual ability to pay for college expenses. Have you had unusual medical bills over the past year, recently lost a job, or received a cut in pay? If there is any reason that your financial reality is measurably different from what the FAFSA portrays, you should make it known to the school in writing and be prepared to show documentation.
•Another school has made a more attractive offer. This was the case with our daughter. When citing this reason in your request, it’s a good idea to include documentation of the competing school’s scholarship offer. Also keep in mind that a larger dollar amount award might not necessarily mean a better offer if the cost to attend is higher, so consider your out of pocket expenses rather than the dollar amount of the scholarship and base your request on that.
Be honest and keep your request within reason. For example, you probably shouldn’t expect a more prestigious university to compete with an offer from a less competative school; if you are going to use another college’s offer as leverage they should be fairly comparable. You also shouldn’t expect the financial aid office to offer more due to high mortgage payments or other regular expenses that are within your control to change.
Timing is Everything!
It can be most beneficial to ask for more money in the window soon after receiving the school’s offer but before sending in any deposits (May 1 is the national deadline so you have time!). The reason is twofold:
•Extra scholarship money may be depleted if you wait too long to make your request, and
•Once schools have sent an acceptance letter to your teen, they become somewhat invested in them. But once your teen has committed with a deposit, schools may feel less pressure to give any extra incentives to draw them in.
Know the Process
Keep in mind that while a quick email did the job in our case, every school is different and your teen’s school may have an appeals process. If this is the case, keep records and be sure make note of the names of the people you speak to as you go; they’re a wealth of information and are almost always eager to help, so you’ll want to get to know them by name!