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Congratulations!  You have been accepted to Prestigious University.

Trumpets blare! The earth has moved! You made it. You are in!

Now how are you going to pay for it?  

How to win a great Financial Aid package and actually pay for college.

Think of this as your homework - but homework that will pay you $10,000 or more per year for the next four years.

Caveat #1: If you or your parents make more than $200,000 combined then don't read further - you will have to pay for college or get merit, field of study, religious or sports scholarships.

Caveat #2: I assume you have been attentive enough to have submitted your FASFA, State grant application and any other college specific financial aid forms such as CSS/PROFILE. Most of these deadlines have passed, but if you have not completed the above then CALL TODAY and see if you can still apply for financial aid.

Caveat #3: This works better for private schools than public schools because private schools have more flexibility with the sources of financial aid they can tap into for your package. So don't be afraid to apply to private schools, they may not be as expensive as you first think.

Step One: Be Nice, Always Say Thank You. First as you receive your admission acceptance letters, respond back to the school admissions officer AND financial aid officer thanking them, conveying your excitement, and indicating you are waiting for their financial aid offer before making any decisions.  

Step Two: Compare All The Offers. Receive all the INITIAL financial aid offer packages from every school. Don't take the first offer. Compare all the offers - you will see that each college can offer you different types of aid: loans vs. grants, work-study, books and supplies assistance, a discounted computer, housing costs, payment plans, etc. Make a spreadsheet to compare each item offered across all the schools. You will now see where one school has stepped up in funding and another has more work-study. This is your starting negotiating point - to make each offer the best it can be.

Step Three: Don't Be A Sucker - Don't Take the First Offer.
The initial financial aid package is just that - initial. The colleges send out really nice acceptance packages, followed by phone calls, emails, post cards, etc. to get you to take the initial offer. The more students they can enroll at full cost or near full cost (maybe with a little $5,000 financial aid offer sweetener) the more money for them. And at $30,000 to $50,000/a pop why not try. Don't bite. They may make a second offer, don't bite. Thank them as above, keep clam and wait. Wait two to three weeks or about three weeks before the acceptance deadline.

Allow me to explain why (in general terms): Each year each college has a budget for financial aid; let's say it is a $10 million pot and they have 1,000 slots to fill. They admit 2,000 students knowing about half will choose not to attend.  So of the 2,000, 500 students take the initial full/almost full offer.  Note the pot is still at about $9 million but 1/2 of the slots are filled. Now 1,000 students decide not to attend. The pot still sits at $9 million but now there are only 500 accepted students left. Now 300 of these students take the round two (admittedly better) financial aid offer. The pot still sits at around $7 million for the remaining 200 slots or $35,000/per slot.  Now you can negotiate knowing that the math works in your favor. You are already admitted, and the college has the budget remaining to make you a great offer.
Step Four: Asking For More.
Remember you are accepted; they aren't going to kick you out. Now decide what a great financial aid package is for each college for you, using your comparison sheet above. Call or email the financial aid officer - the higher title/person the better.

  1. Thank them for their offer(s).
  1. State your financial situation.  This is the time to MAKE SURE they understand your special financial circumstances (debt, medical bills, no parental support, lost job, supporting relatives, first in family to go to college, etc.) Note this is YOUR story.  This is what separates you from all the other people asking for financial aid. Make it 1 page or less, straightforward, financially factual and put it in writing to them.
  1. State how important it is for you to attend their college. Again this is YOUR story. Mention the department/major you want, special programs that they offer that you want - be as specific as you can be. Why?  Because they have funds for certain programs/majors and the department head can make exceptions for their department to help fund your financial aid package. You can also call the department head and explain how much you want their program and ask if they have dedicated funds and if they can call the financial aid officer on your behalf.  
  1. Ask for every possible avenue of financial aid to be explored. This is where your comparison sheet above helps as you can see where one school offers a stipend of $1,500/year for books and another doesn’t – then go ahead ask for it. Be creative, do they have a dorm room manager position where you earn free room and board? Do they have any special scholarships or grants for your specific financial hardships? Note sometimes it helps to ask students at the college about other aid options.
  1. Loans. Ask for loans to be turned into grants. Yes you are willing to take on loans, but don't accept their formula - ask for an exception.  Plead your case for not taking on more debt – maybe you already have enough debt and can’t handle any more.
  1. Terms. Ask for payment terms.  Most colleges will offer a payment plan over a year with a small processing fee. Ask if this can apply to books and supplies as well. This can really help later when money is tight.
  1. Go to the top. Okay the financial aid officer has just given you their best and final offer. Is it their best offer?  Probably not.  You see each financial aid officer has a ceiling or limit on the package they can offer to you. The Chief of Financial Aid, often along with the financial aid committee, has the right to make any offer they want to you. They can step up and offer you a "full ride" IF you are important enough to them. Here it really helps if the above work to explain your special financial circumstances and specific interest in the school is clear and persuasive.    

Caveat: NEVER throw another college’s offer in their face. The financial aid officer is going beyond the call of duty to help you out and you are working as a team with them.  Holding one school's offer over their heads NEVER works. Since so many people blow this one -- think of it this way; if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend and mention how great another person would be - does that make them want to be with you more? I think not.

  1. Finally, wait. Wait until the end. They will make you their best offer if you communicate and work with them.  Be firm, be persistent, be clear in stating your needs and be polite.  

You can win a great financial aid package and afford college and get ahead in life – without years of debt staring you in the face.

As one famous multi-college graduate would say, "You betcha!"

Best of luck.

PS. Shout out to Congress and Obama for signing into law the student loan program changes which will make college more affordable for students. See how easy it is to use reconciliation!

Originally posted to ParkingMeter on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 12:12 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Great diary. If you don't do this for a living (10+ / 0-)

    you should.  In my opinion, the change in the loan program was more important than any other part of the HCR.  It will change the future for many young people.

    "When fascism comes to America, it'll be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross." Sinclair Lewis

    by lakehillsliberal on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 12:21:09 PM PDT

  •  Another (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    yella dawg, Lujane, ParkingMeter

    really important thing to take note of is whether year 2-4 aid packages decrease over time.

    A lot of schools will lure Freshman with great packages and decrease the awards in subsequent years.

    •  Correct (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      There is a lot of bait n switch and entry teasers that are part of what you have to sort through.

      I would note that it can work both ways as I know students who have gone back after their financial circumstances have changed and re-negoiated their aid. Also there are study-abroad and majors scholarships availble in years 3/4.  

  •  My son has gotten (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    almost the same package from both schools he's interested in -- is this coincidence or as both are in the same state is it possible they coordinate?  

    •  Formula based packages. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Justina, Lujane

      Most schools use a formula based upon FASFA and within a state, state aid critera. This means a formula will be applied on the initial offer and they will often be in the same ballpark.

      However, it is your job to help them see beyond the calculation of a formula and understand your specific financial circumstances.    

  •  This is SO helpful! Thank you!!!! n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    emal, Lujane

    Behind every successful woman is a substantial amount of coffee. ~Stephanie Piro

    by sunspark says on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 01:29:37 PM PDT

  •  Playing schools against one another is a bad idea (7+ / 0-)

    I work in the admissions department of my graduate school and we don't like that - at all. As a matter of fact I know people who tried that who subsequently had their admission yanked by both universities to which they were admitted and as such had nowhere to go when Fall rolled around.

    My advice? If you're going to do it put it in terms of "I wanted to go here but another school gave me more, is there a way I could get an additional $5000?" Do not EVER ask for an exception to a merit scholarship to which you're not entitled or act presumptuous because you got into two good schools and you think they want you so badly they'll grovel to get you. Because you know what? There's always another equally qualified candidate who won't.

    Other than that your advice is good and this is a good diary.

    "The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony." Susan Sontag

    by Shane Hensinger on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 01:36:00 PM PDT

    •  Shane - point well made. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shane Hensinger, Lujane, danmitch
    •  Isn't Graduate School much different than (0+ / 0-)

      BA programs? As my graduate school adviser told me my junior year of college MA programs don't need you and don't need to give out money. It is much different than undergraduate programs.

      •  Yes and No (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Shane Hensinger

        Generally grad school programs are a) more expensive and b) more selective. You are correct they "don't need you as much". My advise:

        1. Know what you want. Grad school requires more focus to take advantage of it.
        1. Many schools have combined undergrad/grad programs and provide a path including financial aid tracks. In some cases these can even be combined in to a 4+1 (5 year) grad program.
        1. Get paid to go to school. Find work at a company that has eduction/tution benefits that pay for going to school.  Many large and even small companies provide this benefit.      
        •  I'm not a supporter of academic incest (0+ / 0-)

          I don't think it's wise to do one's BA and MA at the same school. It's generally looked down upon within the academic community. MA and Ph.D? Definitely. But BA and MA? Not recommended IMHO.

          However yes - graduate education requires more focus and there's much more of an emphasis on enrolling students who have the potential to bring fame and fortune back to the university later. So focus like a laser beam in your application. And my advice - don't apply to more than 4 graduate programs at the same time. Anymore is a waste of your (and ours) time and money.

          "The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony." Susan Sontag

          by Shane Hensinger on Sun Apr 04, 2010 at 04:28:25 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the advice! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, Captain Sham, danmitch

    My kid is a junior, so we are just now starting to pay serious attention to the process.  We toured Ivies over Spring Break, and I like their financial aid programs (at least in theory), since even families with a decent income have a shot at substantial aid.  We've explained to the kid that even though we COULD, technically, send her to four years of college at $50k per year, we aren't going to, because we want to have some retirement money left (nor are we going to take out a second mortgage!)  Whether she can get accepted is another question, of course.

    It does seem like fewer colleges offer any merit aid, though.  I guess you take all those hard classes and get the good test scores just so you can get accepted, nowadays.....that's still not enough to get you a scholarship!

    •  I could have written almost this same comment, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Freakinout daily, danmitch

      except my junior's Spring Break will be week after next (three weeks later than usual to accommodate those pesky state-wide standardized tests). She and I will be visiting a few heavies, too. We've also explained the financial side of things. I hope there's sufficient scholarship and similar assistance offered that she can attend one of the schools she wants....

      Sometimes I sits and I thinks; sometimes I just sits. - Archy

      by Captain Sham on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 05:47:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Several ways to go (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      emal, Freakinout daily, Heiuan, danmitch

      Yes, college at $50k/pop is now a "life choice" issue for parents.

      1. Apply to at least 10-15 colleges.  In-state, out of state, private, public. Many schools still give merit-based, sports, music, science scholarships. The Ivyies don't give out many merit-based scholarships any more, but pleanty of other top notch schools do. Test scores/grades are a baseline for many schools, however, some schools place more focus on balance, so extra-curriculars count as does your personal story as told in your essay. You have to be willing to do the homewoark and find your way -- at $50,000/pop (and after taxes) it's worth the investment of your time to plan.    
      1. Roatary, yes Rotary, has a great overseas Student Ambassador program.  Live for your gap year overseas for a year - cost $3,500.  You have to interview and be selected but my daughter is spending next year in Taiwan! Check your Rotary district website. Note colleges love this life experience and will want your student even more.

      Good luck!


  •  my son is a senior at Beloit College (6+ / 0-)
    (great school btw & Mr. Axelrod is speaking at graduation!)

    The school was really great about financial aid, but look for scholarships. There are scholarships for everything - being tall, being left-handed, based on your descent, etc...Mike applied for over 30 scholarships senior year of high school. He did not have the best grades in class, he wasn't the best athlete..but he won 11 scholarships & cobbled together scholarships & grants that paid for a big chunk of his college. He will have some loans to deal with, but he went to 2 summers of intensive Arabic classes & spent junior year abroad in Morocco & Estonia. Neither of his parents got to attend college, and he was lucky enough to get into a really good one. - Anyway, beside being a proud mom my point was- look on the internet! Look locally.  Check in the HS guidance office. JUST LOOK!  

    •  I was enormously happy (5+ / 0-)

      with the change in legislation because it was a dual win. My son was accepted into a new special program as an undergrad that guarantees a spot in medical school when he graduates. They had already offered a half scholarship for first year of undergrad and all four years of med school with a promise to find more. In this economic climate that was dicey as the school was already facing budget cuts. Since the program is specifically aimed at training Primary Care Doctors for under-served areas they will now be eligible for a couple different sources of funding. The health care bill included funding for training for these types of programs (THANK YOU Sen Bernie Sanders!), guarantees to pay off all student loans if my son practices in an under-served area for 5 years and also the safety net of the actual Student loan changes.  We never imagined that he would be able to go to Medical School and in fact last year a friend said it was a bad time to try. Boy were they wrong!

      Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world--and never will. Mark Twain

      by whoknu on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 03:13:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Late to the Party here (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Captain Sham

    but just want to thank you for this information. I knew some of the things you mentioned having gone through it myself decades ago.

    However things have changed and my family is gearing up for this next year. I've booked marked the diary and emailed the link to the kiddo for him to do the same.

    Thanks so much. Very practical and useful information, as are some of the comments.

    "Children are our most valuable natural resource." -- Herbert Hoover

    by emal on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 03:37:02 PM PDT

  •  Thank you (0+ / 0-)

    I'm a sophomore right now, but will have to keep this in the back of my mind for the future. Hotlisted!

    A Contributing Writer for the Northwest Progressive Institute

    by danmitch on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 08:45:40 PM PDT

  •  Tipped, Rec'd, and bookmarked (nt) (0+ / 0-)

    Political liberal / Bible believing Christian / Lousy at litmus tests

    by VirginiaJeff on Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 09:15:38 PM PDT

  •  College financial aid seems arbritary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Scott in WI

    I have known families with almost exactly the same circumstance apply to the same school and end up with vastly different financial aid packages. It also seems like those who saved a lot ended up getting less generous packages.

    As for the $200K cutoff does that also factor in families who may have two or three kids in school at the same time?

    •  It is not easy to "read the tea leaves" (0+ / 0-)
      1. The same circumstances, different outcomes is a confusing problem but somewhat serves to make my point. It depends a lot on the timing, the person doing the reviewing and your will to negoiate as to what the final package offers. Colleges can and do "see things differently" all the time.  
      1. Yes, saving for college is a good thing. And yes, the financial aid evaluation does turn around and say "we found money" when you state your student's, the parents' and trusts, etc. It does feel like they are simply counting your money. However, trust me not having any savings for college sucks compared to having savings to invest in your education.
      1. The $200k cutoff is somewhat arbitary on my part. Schools have different cutoff levels and it behooves you to ask the financial aid office up front about their benchmarks. Financial aid does definetly take into account the number of kids in college (not high school) at the same time. However, it is up to you to make this point clear to them and specifically ask what kind of allowance they have provided in the package for this.    
  •  Ooh... don't much agree (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I don't know how the private schools work, but these tactics wouldn't get you much at a state university. In fact, the little hold out games would likely cause a decrease in your aid package. The state schools have priority deadlines. Everyone before March 1st is gonna get what they should get per their FAFSA. After March 1st, it's usually hit or miss. If the funds are there, they'll fund up to full FAFSA minus EFC, if the funds are not there, you're SOL, they divide up the remaining funds evenly.

    The best you can do to maximize your grants is to attend after the age of 24 (independent status) and not pull in much income. Then you'll max out on Pell and state grants, not have to worry about balancing school and work (school should be your full time job anyways), and because of the time put into school related work, the coming years will present good opportunities for merit based scholarships.

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