College Financial Aid Advice – The College Award Letter

It’s not an award letter. It’s your bill. Colleges are masters of marketing language so you can feel all warm inside about your “award.”

In the top half of the letter is what the college is giving you. Well, they don’t give you money, they give you a discount and call it either a “scholarship” or “grant.”  This is critical to remember because if you’re going to ask for more money, you’re really asking for a deeper discount. But don’t ask for a discount. You want the colleges to think you’ve bought into their feel-good vocabulary. Remain the dummy they think you are and go for the money.

Colleges think you’re a dummy as evidenced by the questions they get from parents on a campus tour of a college that gouges families for $54,000 a year: “What’s the food like here?”  The cost of the next college is, say,  a meezly $42,000 a year:  “Do the freshmen dorms have air-conditioning?” Or, my favorite:  “Do you have a pool?” Get it? Now back to those letters.

Here’s the easiest appeal-for-more-money letter you can write, even if you think you’re a dummy.  But there’s a strategy you must follow: take the college off balance and have your student write to the college financial aid office. What to write: say that you will make a final decision to attend if the school would just add another $1,000 to the award package.

Of course, you may not really mean it – with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But before you think I’m encouraging your student to lie, both the colleges and your student don’t actually know if you’ll be changing your mind to attend any time soon. But because they know you’re asking for more money and not a discount, they’ll look like heroes to the parents if they “give in” to the student’s request. Giving in, or offering an additional little discount, is good PR. So don’t demand more money, and make absolutely no reference to a bad economy; that’s what dummies do. The student will appear objective and – dare I use this overused word? – focused. It’s all about making a positive impression to get what you want.

Keep it positive – “I’m in love with your school!” Of course, you don’t want to say, “You’re my number one school!” And keep it simple: “I’m just asking for a convenient and easy decision in the form of a little more help.” Always ask for help, never for money. 

You have to make it easy for these humorless tight-wads to say, “Yes.”

Colleges are marketing machines, and as a positive publicity jesture, there’s a good chance you’ll get what you requested. Then you become a bragging mechanism in your community for the college that “awarded” you another $1,000 (that’s $4,000 over four years).  But don’t count on it: the college might reference the economy as their excuse to give you nothing.  And the college may well count on this expectation from you. You really can’t tell what a college is going to do in this economy, except give wealthy students a larger discount as an incentive to attend. Very predictable.  

In next week’s blog, I’ll show you how I get more money for my students by using another college’s financial offer as leverage to get more money (read: greater discount) from your student’s first-choice school.
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