If you have heard back from all of your schools, congratulations! You did it! You must have some sort of an idea by now about which college will be your final pick. If you are still waiting to hear from the big guys, good luck to you on Thursday! You have worked hard and finally come to the finish line. It only gets more exciting from here, so buckle up and get ready for a thrilling ride!
In between the excitement, celebrations, parties thrown in your honor to celebrate your success, or maybe even “college reveal parties” – yes; they are a thing! – you will be a college freshman before you know it. Before you get caught up in those fun times, now is a good time to sit down with your family, take a deep breath, and talk a little bit about how finances will factor into your college decision. Although you feel like the college admissions process is (thankfully) over for you, it is far from the truth! The college application process, maybe so; however, the admissions process is not over until you make your college decision and pick that one college that you want to attend. The biggest factor that plays a role in making that crucial decision lies behind the financial award packages you have received from the colleges.
You should now go over each college’s financial aid package and see how much attending that college will cost you, which will be indicated as the “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC) in your award letter. If you see that you have received less than what you were expecting or you can afford, then there are ways to contact the colleges and start the process of what we call “special circumstances, appeals, and negotiations.”
Life is not fair and throws unexpected, unpleasant surprises at us sometimes. Losing a job or work hours, retirement, unforeseen medical expenses, reduction of child support received when a child turns 18 years old, or having to pay for private secondary school or special needs costs for a younger child might all catch your family off-guard. Remember that you submitted your FAFSA based on your family’s income taxes from two years prior, and a lot can change in 2 years. Such changes in your family’s financial situation are called “special circumstances” and need to be communicated to your colleges to be able to get an adjustment on your award package. In this case, a parent should write a special circumstance letter to the financial aid office of each college, explaining the family’s current financial situation in detail. Colleges, depending on their individual requirements, will then request additional documentation from you to verify the information that was submitted initially before any changes were made to your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is best to contact each college’s financial aid office as soon as your financial situation has changed so that they can act on your request in a timely manner. It is then up to each financial aid office to consider your situation by using a professional judgement, which means that they are in no way bound to accept your request. Each college will respond differently depending on their policy and procedures.
Let us assume that there are no financial hardships in your family at the moment, but you think you would need more money to attend a specific college which is your top choice. In this case, you have a right to start the “appeal” process by having a parent write an appeal letter to the financial aid office of that college, requesting a reconsideration of your financial aid package. I would also recommend contacting the financial aid office by phone or email and ask what next steps are needed to proceed with the appeal. Once again, colleges differ greatly in their practices, so always check with them before you assume anything. Writing an appeal letter might yield a better financial aid package only if you have a very good reason for your request. For example, when your parent writes the appeal letter, they can indicate that this college is THE one you would like to spend the next 4 years of your life, so the college will be able to understand that your family is making this appeal to only one college that you have set your heart into and not shopping around! If you can be sincere, you might have a shot at receiving a better deal, but nothing is guaranteed.
“Negotiations”, as the name suggests, are a whole different story that reminds me of shopping around (a little). Obviously, negotiating will be the hardest of all because colleges know that you have been admitted to other colleges and are now negotiating prices to get a better deal. In a nutshell, they know that you have no dream college and will eventually choose the one that gives you the best deal. Therefore, they might not be very negotiation-friendly; some even make it clear on their website that they do not negotiate at all. Different from the other two types of letters I just talked about, the negotiation letter should be written by the student because merit aid is awarded by the admissions office, not the financial aid office. It is your responsibility – and not your parent’s – to defend your case with the admissions office, tell them that this is your top choice of college to attend, and you need a little more money close to what other colleges have offered you. This might mean having to present other colleges’ packages to compare, so have them ready to be submitted. Again, negotiating is the least desirable form of asking for more money from colleges, so I would not recommend relying on it unless you really have to.
Whichever route you might end up taking, please always make sure to be polite throughout your communication with the colleges. Keep in mind that they are there to help you and work with you. Trying will never hurt, but if your request is rejected, you need to be able to take that with grace and move on. After all, if a college really likes you and wants you, then they will give you an offer that will be close to (if not more than) what any other college has offered you. If they are not willing to negotiate at all, then that should be a very good indicator that this specific college is not a good fit for you. Yes; I know – it may be your dream college, but would you really want to be with someone who does not value you as much as you value them? The decision is yours to make… Go with your heart, but do not leave your mind at the door… Only if you have a sense of being desired will you be able to make the best of your college years – fully-committed, thriving, and contributing… Now, THAT is something all colleges would love to have! Know your worth and make your college choice accordingly.
If you need help crafting that financial aid appeal letter, we are here to guide you through it. Here at EdMission Possible, we take financial fitness very seriously, so you can count on us. If you have any questions when comparing your financial aid packages, feel free to contact us. We can walk you through the meaning of all those fancy terms and how they will affect your family’s finances to pay for your college or the amount of loans you will have to take out. Congratulations on your acceptances and good luck making your college choice!
Burcak Deniz Cakir, M.A., M.B.A.
Founder and President | EdMission Possible