Appeal Letter: How To Get More College Financial Aid

What follows is one of the most-read blogs I’ve written. This is not an update or a new twist. It’s a restatement of my tried-and-true formula.

You’re in the driver’s seat. Colleges are now in panic mode. Take advantage of their anxiety. What anxiety? Their very existence is being determined nation-wide by a bunch of 18-year-olds, and they’re uncomfortable with this reality. Hit ’em while they’re down. Which is why you WANT to write an appeal letter asking for more money. Always ask for more money. Read the last sentence again.

Colleges overcharge. This is the operative assumption you must operate with when dealing with the college “award” letter, which is nothing more than the bill.  The top half of the letter will list – in deadpan fashion – what discounts (read: scholarships and/or grants) and loans your student will receive; the bottom half will announce, with all the excitement of an Animal House chorus, what you have to pay.

Your friends will treat their letter as a polished stone tablet. “Gee, all my kid is getting is a $2,000 grant and a bunch of loans. Now what?” The recipient never thinks that the “award” can be altered by appealing it. Fitting the colleges’ contemptuous stereotype of parents as “dummies,” it’s only logical that a parent will pick up the phone and start dialing financial institutions that sell student loans, if you can find one.

Let’s just bypass the headaches that come with not knowing what to do and get down to my magic formula that does NOT work every time, but does work in most instances.

The following is based on the premise that your student has applied to a lot of colleges. I have all my client-students apply to at least ten colleges, which makes educators – I’m only too happy to say – wince or gag at the suggestion. But I will state my case, and you be the judge.

Your daughter applied to ten colleges, and the offers are coming in. She likes her top five very much, and three have given her sizable discounts, otherwise called “scholarships” and “grants.” But her first choice’s offer is $3,000 less than the other two. With the presumption that each of these three schools are in the same league (same GPA and test requirements), you can use the other two offers as ammunition against the first-choice. Always go for more college financial aid.

The language of an appeal letter must be crafted carefully. Here’s what you don’t say: “Because the economy sucks…” Such indelicate verbiage may get a few chuckles, but you don’t want a financial aid counselor laughing at your request. Plus, stating the obvious about the economy will get you nowhere because every “dummy” is saying so in their appeal letters. By NOT saying so already establishes the high credibility of your appeal. All you have to do now is validate it.

Here comes the fun part.

Figure your POOP score (my very own acronym for Parent-Out-Of-Pocket money) as described in this video. If the first-choice college is going to cost you more than the other two, say so. Refer but do NOT provide evidence from the other two offers just yet. Make the colleges ask for it because they may; they want to see if you’re bluffing. Even if they say “no” to your request without asking for evidence, your response is the same: ignore their response and your second correspondence will provide copies of the other schools’ offers. Tah-dah! You just threw the ball in their court with titanic evidence they can’t ignore, and now they have to do something with it. They won’t fumble, and you can’t either.

Let’s say they come back with a negative response. Now what? Send back the last correspondence with a note that says, “Perhaps I wasn’t clear in my request for help. Unless you can help me with a little more money, I will be forced to consider my other choices very soon.” Enclose copies of the other colleges’ offers again. Notice I did not suggest anything with finality, as in “I won’t attend if you don’t give me what I want.”  This is sucking up time, and you’d better be good at it.

The ball is in their court. BTW, never accept a college’s statement that says, “Our offer is non-negotiable.” That is atomic baloney. All offers are negotiable. It’s an intimidating statement that dummies accept, something colleges are counting on. That’s because they don’t think very highly of you. After all, why would any sane person fork over so much money in only five (not four anymore) years?  The college may come back and match the offer of your first-choice. You win. This scenario works often, but not all the time. It depends on the school’s available discounts they can give, the economy (!), their dwindling endowments, or increase (or decrease) in donors this year, whatever. You simply cannot tell from year to year.

The magic formula is simple: ASK, an acronym for “Ask and you shall receive, Seek and you shall find, and Knock and it will be opened to you.” What did you teach your kids all these years? If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

I understand there are other scenarios that don’t fit what you just read, and space doesn’t allow me to continue. But the best advice I can give you is to use the formula, and never use negative statements in your appeal. Ask for help, not for money, and reiterate that you’re looking forward to attending if your request can be met. And have your student sign the letter.
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To get more info on affording college, click here. Please offer a comment and I will respond.

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