College Planning and How One Letter Saved Me $26,000!

Many parents with College bound students have recently experienced the rush of excitement when your offspring rips open the, “Welcome to our University” acceptance letters and then runs around the house screaming like a Banshee on fire which is soon followed by feelings of anxiety as you read thru the ‘Costs To Attend” section outlined on page 2 of most of these letters. (Personally, I have a very nice collection going since I have twins and each applied to 12 schools.)

As a Certified Financial Planner my clients look to me for guidance on nearly every aspect of their financial affairs and college planning is a big one.  After reading countless books and attending 50+ hours of lectures on topics focused on preparing for, applying to and negotiating with Admissions and Financial Aid Departments, the best thing I learned was to simply ask for more, just like Oliver Twist – “please Sir, can I have some more,” more money that is– Gift Aid -specifically. This is the kind of financial help that we don’t have to pay back.

Here is what you can do to help increase your Gift Aid.  Apply to at least 6 or more schools that are considered to be at the same academic level. Apply around the country. Don’t limit applications to the same region like the East Coast. Schools are looking for diversity to populate their classes. A school from the East coast is much more likely to offer Gift Aid, aka scholarships or tuition discounts, if your student is from a different geographic region like the West Coast rather than the 300 mile radius pool that they normally draw from.

When the offers arrive, take all of the awards that are higher than the school that you really want to attend and send a nice letter describing the keen interest that the student has in attending and state the reason why it would be helpful to receive more Aid to make it possible. As an example, your student can site the amount of kids in college, a recent job setback, divorce, illness – anything plausible will do. Naturally, the letter should be written by your student and sent to the Admissions officer that signed the Acceptance letter.

My youngest twin was fortunate to get accepted to every top fashion design school that she applied to and received decent scholarship offers at the onset. However, after subtracting the Gift Aid reduction from the total cost of attendance, the balance due was still enormous.  So we sent copies of Higher Award letters to every school that offered less money with the intention to have them bid up their lower offer. Fortunately, the school that she really wanted to attend raised the Aid package by $6,500 per year or $26,000 for 4 years. Like any good business, the school doesn’t want to lose a good paying customer for four years plus the possibility of donations for many years by the now successful graduate. So, don’t be too quick to accept the first offer. Negotiate – ask for more, you have nothing to lose!

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