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Accepted, But Not Enough Financial Aid and Scholarships. Now What?

by Kathy de Jong, Independent Educational Consultant

High school seniors are now making their final college selection. If the application list was done well, the student should have at least a couple acceptances to colleges that “fit the bill”…so to speak. Some students may also have received an acceptance to a college that was their first choice, but is a stretch financially because they did not receive enough need-based or merit based aid from the college to make it work. Before turning down the first-choice college, here are some things to consider to make that college dream a reality. Keep in mind, college should be considered a 4-year financial plan. Each year may have different financial requirements and/or options.

  1. Ask for More Money. Yes. You can do this. Two ways: Appeal the need-based financial-aid award or Request more merit-based aid.
    Now that you know that you are “wanted” at that first-choice college, you have a little more leverage when it comes to requesting more financial help. Your need-based aid is based on your income/tax returns from the year prior, prior to the year of enrollment. So for freshman entering college fall 2019, the amount of need-based aid was determined by your 2017 tax year income reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If there has been a significant change in the family’s financial situation since 2017 that is not reflective of the family’s ability to pay now, you can appeal the need-based aid award. Situations such as loss of income or excessive medical bills are appropriate reasons to appeal. Parents should contact the financial aid office to determine the college’s process for appeal.

    Requests for additional merit aid are usually handled by the admissions office. The student can write a letter to the admission representative to explain the situation and their request, then follow-up with a phone call. If the student has received a better merit aid offer from a “peer” college (a college with similar academic requirements such as average GPA, standardized test scores, acceptance rates, etc.) be sure to let the first-choice college know. They may be willing to make a better offer.

  2. Reduce the Time to Graduate. Can you graduate in less than 4 years? Most college will use a flat fee for a full-time student load. For example, you can take 12 credit hours or 18 credit hours per semester for the same tuition price. If you are a student that can handle more than the 15 credit hours/semester typical for graduation in four years, this is a way to potentially save an entire semester (or more) of college costs. Remember to ask the college how many of the AP/IB classes you took can be counted toward graduation – either toward your major or as an elective. That can reduce the time to graduation. Each college has their own policies on AP/IB credits, so do you homework before making a final decision.
  3. Get a Job – According to a 2015 study by Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce, 40% of undergraduates work 30 hours or more per week, and 25% are working full-time and attending class full-time. Many of these are older students, but it goes to show it can be done.
  4. Loans – Excessive loans are to be avoided. However, for some students, loans may make sense. If graduating from a specific program/college will likely produce an above average salary coming out of college, and allow the student to pay off the loan in a couple of years, a loan is not a bad thing. Most full-time students qualify for a Federal Direct Loan of $5,500 their freshman year, and that amount increase to $7,500 by the senior year. Other private loans are also available.
  5. Room and Board Options – Each college has their own options for housing and meal plans. Carefully consider these options and how costs may be reduced over the four years. If a student can opt to live off campus for less money in say years 3 and 4, this can reduce the total cost of college. Also, if a student can live at home and commute to college, but the college has an on-campus residential requirement, contact the admissions office to see if this rule can be waived.
  6. Apply for More Scholarships – Scholarships are offered at every level of the education journey, not just as a high school senior. Many colleges offer a wealth of scholarship opportunities for students beyond their freshman year, including scholarships within specific departments. Get a sense for the opportunities in the first-choice college. While there is no guarantee to receive more financial aid in the future, understanding the opportunities can be comforting. And as always, continuously look for outside scholarships.
  7. Compare Health Insurance Programs/Costs and Waive the College’s Plan if Appropriate. Students are required to have health insurance, so many (um most) colleges will automatically add a health insurance plan to the college bill. Depending on the college, the plan can be up to $5,000 per year or more. If the student is on the parent’s health insurance plan, and it meets the college’s requirements, the family may opt to waive the college’s plan. Be sure to determine the process and deadline to waive the insurance or the family may be paying for unnecessary coverage. The waiver is required each year.
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