6. Be prepared to appeal: Brian Henson nabbed acceptance letters for fall 2011 from California Polytechnic State University—San Luis Obispo, the University of Texas—Austin, and the University of San Diego. But his father was laid off from his job in November 2010, dramatically affecting the family's income. Each school had offered Henson aid packages that were light on grants and heavy on loans. He honed in on Cal Poly, with a cost of attendance of about $22,000, and UT—Austin, with a price tag for out-of-staters at about $47,000.
A few weeks before the decision deadline, Brian's mother contacted both schools to plead for more grant money. "At first, with Texas it looked promising, as they said they could accommodate us and offer the whole amount" in grants, she says. "But then they came back ... and said they couldn't because there wasn't any money left."
Brian ultimately chose Cal Poly. But had the Hensons contacted admissions officials at Texas sooner, they might have been able to obtain more grant money. Colleges often have funds to offer to students with extenuating circumstances like Brian's, whose dad is again employed.
7. Go right to the top: Not satisfied with the answers you're getting from an aid representative? Ask to speak with the director of financial aid. "Most of us are open to it and happy to talk to students and parents," Carleton's Oto says. Still, he adds, "Most financial aid offices are equipped to handle most requests. Whom you talk to doesn't matter as much as whether you have a strong case."
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