Founder & College Consultant
Access Success LLC
The short answer to this question: You won't know until you ask! There's no reason not to attempt a financial aid negotiation—and not just your first year of college. Your financial aid package is something you should negotiate year-after-year. Schools won't retract initial offers of aid because you've asked for reconsideration. The worst that can happen is being told no.
First, figure out what you may qualify for and who to contact. If your FAFSA calculated a very low estimated family contribution (EFC), ask your school’s financial aid office to explain the award in relation to your EFC, especially if they offered loans and not need-based grants and scholarships. They should also be your point of contact if your prior-year taxes don’t accurately reflect your current financial situation. Additionally, if you have a legitimate change of circumstances—unexpected medical expenses, a recent divorce, the death of a parent, unemployment, etc.—you should bring it to their attention. In these situations, you’ll fill out a specific form or write a letter to document whatever changes you're claiming. This typically requires providing the school with copies of your most recent tax returns as well as schedules, medical bills, EOBs, termination letters, etc. These appeals are best made by a parent, not by the student.
If your EFC is high and you don’t have a circumstance change, it may not be necessary to appeal to the financial aid office. Instead, appeal to the admission office, preferably to a representative you’ve been working with during the admission process. When requesting reconsideration for new or additional scholarships, it helps to provide reasons for why you deserve it. Detail any changes to your family's financial health and explain how you’ll contribute to the campus community. These sorts of appeals are met with greater success when initiated by you, not by your parent.
Appeals should always be typed and hand mailed and should include your name as well as your student ID number. Mail your appeal no later than early April if you’re an incoming freshman and as soon as possible for upperclassmen. Take note of when you mail it, and if you don't receive a reply within seven to 10 days, follow up with a phone call. Most importantly, make your appeal before putting down any sort of deposit—tuition or housing! Once you make a deposit, the school has no incentive to negotiate as you already intend to enroll.
Find more answers to your burning questions about paying for college in our Financial Aid—Ask the Experts section.