How to get more financial aid in college
The academic arms race is not about the struggle to smash the doors of elite colleges. It is a battle for access to affordable degrees. Almost all colleges accept more than two-thirds of their applicants. But only a dozen of the most elite schools, including Harvard, Yale and Princeton, have endowments large enough to charge families only what they can afford to pay without loans.
Stepping into one of the ultra-elites is like trying to hit a dart board while blindfolded. Far less than 1% of applicants nationwide attend a college that has the single-digit acceptance rates of Ivy League and Stanford schools.
The rest pushes loans, encouraging students to borrow. To avoid debt bondage, one must not only negotiate with colleges, but also understand the obscure language of financial aid. Sorting through deliberately ambiguous financial aid contracts is a lot to ask a teenager who decides between borrowing tens of thousands of dollars and giving up on a dream college.
But that’s precisely what happens every year and why so many people like Norman A. Coulter Jr., 45, a Southern California public school teacher, can’t afford to buy a home or to save for the university studies of his children.
Coulter’s student loan payments, along with rent, swallow 50% of his salary each month. The son of a single mother who drove a school bus for a living, he was the first in his family to attend college. He accepted his first loan at the age of 17. “I signed up because my mom said I should,” he says. He had no idea that he was “engaging in some kind of slavery.”
Schools rarely warn families of the specific conditions and restrictions they place on financial aid, and use different words to describe the same or similar policies. Colleges offering a common federal loan program used more than 100 different terms to describe it, “including two dozen that didn’t even mention the word loan,” Stephen Burd and his fellow researchers reported in a 2018 study by the group. New America think tank. The obfuscation makes it “extremely difficult for students and families to make a financially informed decision by the university,” the study concludes.
Even more puzzling is how colleges use algorithms to improve rankings and maximize income, giving discounts to get the most desired students to enroll. Some families benefit from massive discounts and small loans. Others get tiny discounts and massive loans.
Refusing to take the worst loans is key to avoiding the kind of overwhelming debt Coulter struggles to pay off. The most affordable loans are subsidized by the government. The riskier loans come from private lenders. Work-study helps students working on campus jobs pay for tuition or living expenses.
“Free money” – tuition rebates, merit assistance, scholarships, institutional grants, and financial assistance as needed – reduces the amount families borrow or pay out of pocket. To calculate the actual cost of college, add up the free money and subtract it from the total cost. The difference is what families pay out of pocket or with loans.
To get more free money after the arrival of the financial aid program, one should appeal according to the financial needs of the family. The most successful calls usually involve getting a better deal from a rival college. Even with another offer, families will have to prove that the attraction is based on need rather than want to.
- To get started, find the “expected family contribution” on the federal government’s Free Federal Student Assistance Application (FASFA) form. If the family’s contribution is less than the college charges, start the call with the lower number.
- Attach documentation that demonstrates specific reasons why the family needs a greater reward. Examples include: a letter that shows a more generous offer from a rival college; investment losses; unemployment checks; pink slip; payslips; support checks sent to sick or aging parents; work interruptions and losses suffered due to the need to care for sick family members; medical bills; Kindergarten to grade 12 classes for siblings; home repair debt (roof repairs are okay; hot tubs, kitchen remodels, and high-end appliances are not.)
- Contact the college, talk to a financial aid office official, write down their name, ask how to appeal, and follow up with the same person.
- Good grades and test results are irrelevant. Appeals for financial assistance are based on the family’s economic situation.
- Be open and honest. Follow-up in writing and by telephone.
- Use two premier colleges. Use a better offer from a rival college as a bargaining chip. If that doesn’t work, appeal to the second. If a school offers an affordable price, send the deposit and participate. It’s just.
There are no statistics on the number of calls granted, but it never hurts to ask for more money. Politely.
Fgo out “Why college financial aid fails families. “