Strategies for Improving Aid

Strategies for Improving Your Financial Aid Package

As you may already know, all of need-based financial aid is determined by your EFC. So the best way to increase your eligibility for aid is to decrease your EFC. To get some more suggestions on how to decrease your EFC, you can read our article on the topic. Once you have decreased the amount of money that the college expects you to contribute, there are several strategies you can employ to ensure that you are getting all of the money for which you are eligible.

The chief strategy is to apply where you are wanted. In visiting colleges, several colleges have told us that when students are accepted, the admissions office will assign the student a rating and that rating is passed along to the financial aid office. The financial aid office will then offer a financial aid package based on how badly the school wants the student. So, a student who the school would really like will have their need fully met with more grants than loans, whereas a student who may have just gotten in, or who was on the bubble, will receive a package laden with loans. Thus, to make sure you are getting all the free money you can, apply to at least some schools where you will be in the top 25% of admitted students. How can you determine this? One way is by checking out the College Board’s website, and use the college QuickFinder to locate information about your schools. When you the school you are interested in, go to the SAT™ tab. Here they will give you the scores of the Middle 50% of First-Year Students. If you are above the top number, your scores would likely put you in the top quarter of the admitted class, and you would be a student who they would want.

Another way to make certain that you will receive al of the money that you are eligible for is to apply to schools in pairs. This allows you to play the schools against each other when you receive your financial aid offers, and potentially gain an improved package from your first choice school. In order to really be able to use the offer as a bargaining chip, you need to be certain that you are applying to schools that view each other as peer institutions. For example, if you receive a full-scholarship offer from Southern Connecticut University and try to use that to get a better package from Yale University, they are not going to be likely to budge. There are several ways that you can determine if schools are similar. One way is to use athletic conferences. Usually teams that compete on the field also compete in the classroom. Another way is to use “Application Crosses”. Guide books such as the Yale Daily News Insider’s Guide to the Colleges and Fiske Guide to the Colleges both offer lists of schools that students who apply to one institution also apply to. These applications crosses are likely their largest competitors. Another good way to find out which schools a college views as its closest to competitor is to call and ask the admissions office. Ask them, “Which school do you cross applications with the most consistently?”

When you receive the financial aid packages from the two schools, compare the offers (we have a great article on how to compare financial aid offers). If you are receiving more money from one school, but would rather go to another, call your first choice school and let them know. “My son would like to attend your university. It has been his first choice all along, however, he has received $7,000 more a year in scholarship money from Second Choice U, and cannot justify the extra $28,000 expense. Is there anything you can do to help make the decision easier for him?” Or, better yet, have your son call himself. There is a chance they won’t do anything. More likely, they will ask you if there is any information they should consider that they might not have been aware of originally (read our article about presenting extenuating circumstance appeals). They may also request a copy of the First Choice U’s financial aid offer. Often, they will come back with a better package for you. Even if they don’t, you are no worse off than you were before you made the request.

Even if you do not have another financial aid offer to use to try and leverage a better package, you may want to call a college and see if there is anyway that they can improve their offer. This is when you may want to present an extenuating circumstance appeal or call to their attention any mitigating circumstances.

In closing to make certain that you are getting the best aid package possible:

  • Apply to schools where you are wanted (those where you are in the top quarter of the First-Year class);
  • Apply to colleges in pairs so you can compete financial aid packages;
  • And whenever necessary, present extenuating circumstances to the colleges.

Remember to use our college scholarship search to find colleges that might offer you academic scholarships.