The College Appeal Letter: Push Back!

Prepare to be screwed, once your student goes off to college.

Your child is attending his or her first-choice college with all the financial aid you wanted. You feel good about the school and its generosity. The college got a great student and you got a great aid package. It’s a win-win for everybody. To top it off, your student has a great academic first year, thereby validating for the college why they gave your child a generous aid package.

You check your college financial aid package for the following year: you discover a loss of $5,000 in grants from the previous year. Huh? How does this happen? It happened to one of my former coaching students. Instinctively, I knew a college appeal letter had to be written immediately. This was “bait and switch” in its purest form.

It can be hard to prove why a college reduces financial aid on a good student; my student is attending a college whose retention rate is in the Top 30 in the nation.

When I was alerted to his 2nd year aid package by his mother, I wrote an appeal letter for the student’s signature that suggested he may have been penalized for having a very good academic year and that a reinstatement of the original aid package seemed to be in order. We figured it would take several days to receive an answer.

The college’s response came five hours later in an email. They indicated that even though his family’s financial aid position didn’t change, they were not going to reinstate the $5,000. Instead they were going to reinstate $3,800 – still a net loss of $1,200.

The college gave no explanation of WHY they still reduced his financial aid package, and I wanted to write a second college appeal letter to get the remaining $1,200 that was lost. The parents didn’t want to rock this boat, and I told the parents that they already had a commitment in writing (email) on the $3,800, and that the worst the college could do was to say, “No.”

The parents decided against a second appeal, which I still regard as a mistake. Many of my clients in years past have received more money on a second appeal, with an approach that scares the crocodiles right out of the water.

Colleges make mistakes and they deliberately don’t make mistakes. I couldn’t tell if this college made a mistake in its second-year financial aid recalculation, and they didn’t admit to such in their response. But it was a “push” coming from the college.

Which begs the question: How do you react when someone pushes you? Answer: You push back. When you don’t push back, the pusher thinks he can push again. We pushed back, and although we didn’t get everything we were looking for, the family was satisfied.

Prepare for the “bait and switch” tactic from your child’s college. It may never come, but to hedge against it, ask (never demand) in an email (never call) if the financial aid package will remain the same throughout your child’s stay.

The college may already tell you its policies in the original award letter (read: the bill). For example, the college may indicate that the financial aid package will remain the same as long as the student maintains a certain GPA (grade point average).

If they don’t, send that email. Keep sending it – once a week – until you get a satisfactory answer. Once you get it, you have it in writing, which you can use against the college if they decide later to change their mind. The economy affects everyone, including colleges. So push back.
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To get Paul Hemphill’s “weaponized” expertise on how to pay less for college and how to get in, click here.

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