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How can my child get a better financial aid package?

If your child is accepted at a college, he or she will get a financial aid award letter that contains: (1) the college's cost of attendance (COA) (this figure is different for every college); (2) your expected family contribution (EFC), which is calculated from the federal government's aid application (this figure is constant); and (3) the specific types and amount of aid being offered. The difference between the college's COA and your EFC equals your child's financial need. The college's financial aid administrator will attempt to meet this need by offering aid that includes a mix of loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study.

Let's assume you and your child are comparing financial aid awards from several colleges. Is it possible to request a more favorable aid package? The answer is yes. Financial aid administrators have the authority to exercise "professional judgment" to reduce the loan portion of an aid award and increase the grant, scholarship, and/or work-study component. Your chances of prevailing are best in two situations:

(1) You have a special circumstance that affects your ability to pay. Examples include a recent job loss, high medical bills, or some other factor that puts above-average constraints on your income.

(2) Your child has been accepted at two competing colleges, and one has offered a more generous aid package. Many colleges don't mind losing an applicant to a more (or less) selective college, but they generally don't like to lose an applicant to a direct competitor.

Even if neither of these situations applies, you can still contact the college's aid administrator. In any case, the best approach is to send a polite business letter, with a follow-up telephone call or meeting. Explain in positive terms how much your child wants to attend that college and highlight your child's accomplishments. Your success will likely depend on whether your child will help the college meet its enrollment goals, and the amount of discretionary aid the college has available.