Appealing Financial Aid Decisions

As college-bound high school seniors begin to decide where they’ll call home for the next four (or more) years, we at Within Reach think it is prudent for parents to simultaneously assess all financial aid decisions of which they’ve been notified in order to better understand the impact said decisions – or award packages – will have on family finances. Are the schools to which your student has been accepted offering him or her a work-study program? If so, how much of your student’s expenses does the program subsidize? Does the award package consist of student loans, which translate to years of debt, or is the institution offering your student grant money? Or, worst of all, did your family simply receive a big, fat “NO” as a response to your request for the financial aid you truly need to send your son or daughter to his or her dream school? Navigating the college financial aid “game” can be tricky – and daunting – and we suspect that many parents across the country share the same questions when it comes to interpreting their individual financial aid packages.

To be clear, Within Reach is not licensed to dispense specific financial advice, but we do want to encourage any parents who are unhappy with their financial aid packages to take the following action:

Appeal your financial aid decision!

Though the schools may project otherwise, financial aid decisions are often not set in stone. In an April 2014 New York Times article, contributing finance editor Ron Lieber clarifies the “decades-long practice of in-the-know families”, saying, “Do not call it bargaining. Or negotiation. That makes financial aid officers mad, as they don’t like to think of themselves as presiding over an open-air bazaar. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t ask. At many of the private colleges and universities that students insist on shooting for, half or more of families who appeal get more money. And this year, for the first time, the average household income of financial aid applicants will top $100,000 at the 163 private colleges and universities that the consulting firm Noel-Levitz tracks. “

As Lieber asserts (and we agree), knowing more about the institutional side of the financial aid process is key for parents who wish to campaign for more grant money. However, in his attempt to illuminate the shadowy recesses of our nation’s university finance offices, Lieber was met with little compliance and an unwillingness to dispense “private” information about the award process. We’re not surprised. At the end of the day, colleges and universities are businesses, and they have enrollment managers devoted to admitting a class of “likely to enroll; likely to pay” students. Of course, that’s not to say that schools aren’t benevolent; Amherst College, Boston College, Cal Tech, Columbia University, Duke University, Franklin and Marshall College, and Johns Hopkins University – just to name a few – are committed to meeting 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need.

Since the article is so well-written and informative, we encourage all parents considering a financial aid appeal to read it before beginning the process via the following link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/05/your-money/paying-for-college/for-many-families-college-financial-aid-packages-are-worth-an-appeal.html?_r=0

Morgan and Stephanie

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