After months of polishing essays, filling out applications and collecting letters of recommendation, it finally arrives — an acceptance letter from your dream school. Congratulations!
But what happens if your financial aid package is smaller than you were expecting? Depending on your situation, you may be able to appeal for more aid. In fact, CNBC reported that approximately one-third of financial aid appeals were successful, according to The Princeton Review.
Knowing this, you’ll benefit from learning how to negotiate a financial aid offer and give yourself the best chance at qualifying for additional assistance.
How to Determine the Financial Aid Amount You Actually Need
The College Board reported that the average amount of aid that undergraduate students received in grants, federal loans, tax credits and work-study programs was $14,800 for the 2020-2021 academic year. Considering that the average total cost of attendance for a public four-year school was $22,690 for in-state students, you might need more aid than your college initially offers.
Before filing an appeal, look at the financial aid offers you’ve received so far. Each college will have its own award letter format, so it may not be immediately clear which school has the best package. To simplify things, follow these steps:
- Look at the net price. This is the total cost of attendance after deducting the value of the grants and scholarships you receive.
- Deduct other resources. From the net cost, deduct other resources you may have, such as gifts from grandparents or money from an education savings account.
- Consider how much you need to borrow. The remaining amount is how much you’ll have to cover yourself, either by dipping into savings, earning income or by applying for student loans.
To keep yourself organized, you may find it helpful to create a spreadsheet. You can use it to compare the financial aid offers from each school and their total net price. Or, you can use The Hechinger Report’s Offer Letter Decoder, a free tool that breaks down school financial aid offers to help you make an informed decision.
Once you understand what aid you’re eligible for and how much you’ll have to pay, you can begin negotiating with your selected schools. Keep in mind, it’s important to be realistic. If you received only partial scholarships, it’ll be hard to convince a school to give you a full ride. But, you may be able to negotiate a better offer.
How to Ask Colleges for More Money
Fortunately, negotiating financial aid doesn’t have to be difficult. You can start the appeals process in three easy steps:
1. Prepare Your Argument
Financial aid representatives will normally adjust your financial aid offer if there has been a significant change in your circumstances. For example, you may be eligible for additional aid if your family’s income decreased, a parent passed away or your household grew in size.
When communicating these changes, be as specific as possible. Describe in detail what occurred, when it happened and the impact it had on your finances. For example, someone might say, “My mother, who earned 60% of our household income, lost her job during the pandemic. As a result, we had to use our savings to cover our mortgage payments. Now we have $10,000 less in assets set aside for my education than we did before.”
2. Collect Documentation
Be prepared to be asked for proof of your new circumstances when appealing your financial aid offer. For example, you may be asked to submit a copy of a statement for unemployment, or a termination notice if your supporting family member lost their job. If a parent passed away, you may be asked for a death certificate. You can streamline the process by collecting these documents ahead of time.
3. Contact the Financial Aid Office
Reach out to the financial aid office and ask what the process is for requesting an appeal. Some schools will ask you to submit a letter through the mail, while others will have their own forms for you to fill out.
Follow the school’s process and be sure to submit all required materials by the communicated deadline.
4. Write a Compelling Letter
If a letter is required as part of the appeal, be polite and clear about your circumstances. Express how much you want to attend that college, but because of your current situation, you’re unable to cover the total cost of attendance with the existing aid package.
5. Explore Alternatives
While some financial aid appeals are successful, your appeal may be denied. If that happens, don’t be discouraged. There are alternative ways to finance your education:
- Search for scholarships and grants. You may be eligible for scholarships and grants from non-profit organizations or companies. You can search for available opportunities at CareerOneStop or Scholarships.com.
- Apply for State Aid. Some states issue their own grants, loans and work-study programs. Contact your state education agency to see what aid is available to you.
- Consider private student loans. With a private student loan from College Ave, you can borrow up to the total cost of attendance less other aid. Plus, you’ll have up to 15 years to repay your loan.
The Bottom Line
If your current financial aid package doesn’t cover the total cost of attendance, knowing how to negotiate is crucial. By preparing ahead of time, you can improve your chances of qualifying for additional aid.
And if you need a private student loan? Before you apply, you can use College Ave’s prequalification tool to check your eligibility and view loan options – all without affecting your credit score.