As 12th grade parents know, most college financial aid offices have or will soon be ‘mailing’ out their financial aid award letters.  Unfortunately, some (maybe even many) families will find themselves unhappy with the contents of these letters.  I hope that’s not your family, but if it is — there is some good news.

In many cases, a financial aid award  can be improved (even retroactively)– it’s not written in stone!  It’s actually a financial aid “offer” – meaning that it can be accepted, rejected — or appealed (which is academic speak for ‘negotiated‘).  Many parents who attend my workshops are surprised when I explain this.  

The key to a successful ‘appeal’ is knowing whether and how to build your case.   Is your initial offer fair (i.e., is it within 2-3% points of the school’s historical record of meeting need)?  Did you mis-identify your assets/income etc. in your initial application? Have you properly explained any special circumstances that may artificially inflate your net worth (e.g., a one-time distribution from a 401(k) rollover)?  Have or will your family circumstances change (separation, illness, tenuous job situation, etc.).  Do you have a ‘better’ offer from a competing school that you are willing to take?

I posted a piece on my blog where I share a few tips on how to determine if a financial aid award is fair, and what you can do to ‘appeal’ to the school for more money if it is not.   Last year (as in years past), we were successful in more than 80% of  the cases we appealed.  If you or someone you know is unhappy with what their child’s dream school has offered, please read/share this article with them.

And if you are the parent of a  9th, 10th or 11th grader, I suggest you read through these tips as well… both as a cautionary tale and a wake-up call.  For you, there’s still time to educate yourself on your family’s academic and financial options.  And with proper information and advance (as in now) action,college sticker prices can become irrelevant; and therefore, price need not limit your student’s educational options.  The key, of course, is to have an integrated funding and admissions strategy in place BEFORE your child falls in love with a particular school.   With a good college plan, even families that have little saved and/or have healthy six-figure incomes can cut the price of college dramatically.   Consider this:   private colleges are ‘discounting’ tuition by an average of 42%; and for public universities the average discount is about 15%.   This is according to the College Board.

If you make it a priority to learn about this now, you’ll lessen the likelihood that you or more tragically, your child, will be disappointed later.  I’ll be discussing appeals and sharing real cases, as well as many other college planning tips at my workshop at the Sagemont School in Weston tomorrow night.  The class is 100% free. 110% pitch-free and open to the public.   Click here to learn more and to reserve your seat.

I hope to see you there.

Best Wishes,
Peter

P.S.  Though I’ve been writing about the financial aid process and appeals for years, you don’t have to take my word for it.  On Friday, The New York Times published a great piece Appealing to a College for More Financial Aid that contains some great commentary right from the mouths of Admissions and Financial Aid officers at some very selective schools.

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