From the Clipboard - Asking for more money? How valuable is your student to the school?
This time of year is when high school seniors tend to get their acceptance and award letters and hopefully it's a happy time to hear that your son or daughter was accepted at the college of their choice.
Despite the excitement, it might not be nearly as exciting because the award may not be as big as you were hoping for. Don't get fixated on the wrong number. Quite often, families focus on that scholarship number and forget everything else. The types of awards certainly matter whether they're loans, grants, or work study.
Ultimately, the net cost is the number that matters. What happens is that families see one school that's $70k with a $30k scholarship for a net $40k price. Another school will be $30k with a $10k scholarship for a net price of $20k. What parents fixate on is the size of the scholarship and think the second school is a lot worse because they only gave $10k in merit aid versus the $30k that the first school gave.
It's really not comparing apple's apples.
One thing you want to understand about the award is what is required to maintain that award. For some schools, it could just be maintaining good standing which typically is a 2.0 or 2.5 college GPA. Not super hard to maintain but other schools might have certain other criteria, such as a higher GPA or stay in a certain major, or even other items. You want to understand those requirements before you just accept an award. One college in particular gave a scholarship for an engineering major that required a 3.8 college GPA - which is REALLY HARD.
Another question to ask is how many years these scholarships cover, often expressed as semesters. The award letter may indicate the length of time. Some colleges will offer awards that are “front load” where they'll give you more money the first year to get you there and hope your student stays since making friends, enjoying classes, etc. Your cost then would be higher for years 2, 3 and 4.
It is also important to identify which items are truly merit-based, need-based or a combination of both. This drives some strategy down the road to try to minimize the 4 year cost of college.
One question that families often is about asking for more money. The answer is, “Yes”. You can always yes can you ask for more money. Does that mean you're going to get more money? “No!” But the college can't take aid already committed back so there’s really no downside to asking.
If you're going to ask for more money, there are strategies. Are you asking because you truly have a financial circumstance such as a job loss, medical issue, or your house burned down, or are you asking “just because”? The two entail two completely different strategies.
In the first category - having significant financial changes/circumstances - families typically ask the financial aid office. College will usually have a special circumstances form and have a specific process. Colleges understand that things happen, and generally will try to work with the family.
If you're asking for more merit money or the “just because”, that might go through admissions or through a specific college/department depending on the specific aid items.
Make sure you understand why you're asking and who to ask. At most schools, asking for more merit scholarship means you're not asking the financial aid office; you're asking admissions. But if you made the request of the financial aid office, they're going to decline your request.
Your probability of success of getting more aid money initially and upon appeal really doesn't come from a nicely written letter or anything like that. Your chances of success is based on how valuable your student is to the college. It is not how valuable the school is to the student.
Colleges fill out their freshman class based on various attributes, such as geographic diversity, academic profile, male/female ratios, and everything else under the sun. The more they want your student, the more money they're going to give. The less they want your student, the less money you get. That doesn't mean that your student won’t be accepted; there are plenty of students each year that are accepted to college with zero aid of any kind. What that really means is that your student isn't all that valuable to
the school. Sorry, but it's true.
What does this mean for younger high school students?
The probability of success in getting aid, and getting more money when
you ask, actually starts all the way back at the college search process. Are you looking at schools where your student would be really valuable to the school or are you looking at schools where your student is just hoping and praying that they get in?
It's also important to understand if your family would qualify for financial need-based aid, merit aid, or both because it goes to search. The earlier you start the search, the earlier you figure this out so you can either put schools on the short list or you can cross.
And develop the strategies to maximize aid and pay for college efficiently.
I write primarily on college financial aid and student loan topics. My firm has a particular specialty in working with self-employed or small business owners on these issues.
My content is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as advice or any kind of solicitation to buy or sell anything. As always, consult your own financial or tax professional for your own specific situation. Your mileage may vary. Batteries not included.
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