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Getting More College Aid

How to get a dream school to up the financial package

Q. My son was accepted to his dream college, but the financial aid package it offered was less than we'd hoped for. What's our recourse?

See also: Paying down college debt.

A. You can appeal the decision. Check the school's website for information on how — some let you appeal online, while others have you download paper forms. You may have to submit supporting material such as pay stubs and tax returns.

You can also call the financial aid office to ask who's handling your child's case. Some experts suggest the student make the initial contact, but whoever does it, here are some tips on stating your case for more aid — ideally grants or scholarships that, unlike loans, don't need to be repaid.

  • Choose your words wisely. "Colleges get a little touchy if you talk about 'negotiating' a financial award," says Scott Anderson of eduLaunchpad.com, a website about the college admissions process. "They seem to think that they are not big business selling a needed service." Instead, start by thanking the financial aid officer for what's already been awarded and the chance to enroll. Then politely ask about the possibility of getting more aid.

  • Be specific. The most successful appeals demonstrate a change in family finances, especially any changes since the application or federal FAFSA form was filed. You'll want to mention any job loss and money that's not coming in. Other circumstances that can tip things in your favor include caring for aging parents or having other kids in college.

  • Mention other offers. If Junior was accepted elsewhere, the dream college may increase its financial aid offer rather than risk losing an accepted applicant. My kids appealed financial aid packages from private universities in which they'd been offered a space, politely mentioning other acceptances and specific aid offers. In two instances, the pricier schools later offered extra scholarship money that made the out-of-pocket costs nearly identical to the lower-cost alternatives.

  • Meet alumni. One son also managed to get a $1,000 "alumni" scholarship on top of $13,000 a year in regular scholarships. How? He called his dream school to ask about little-publicized gathering events of past grads so that he could "learn about campus life." Attending one, he chatted with several alums, passed out a high school activities résumé he'd brought along, and collected business cards for next-day thank-you notes. Several weeks later came notice of the extra award — recommended by one attendee. Not bad for two hours of wearing a coat and tie.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues. Have a question for Sid Kirchheimer about a new product, a new kind of bank account? Check out the Ask Sid archive. If you don’t find your answer there, send a query.

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