Financial Aid Advice
• Call, E-mail, write, or, most persuasive of all, visit, the school's financial aid office and ask for a Professional Judgment Review. Be prepared to present your arguments and evidence in whatever format they request.
Has your favorite school awarded so much less aid than have other schools that you won't be able to afford your top choice?
• Analyze each school's true cost of attendance by adding up ALL the costs: tuition, fees, room, board, books, travel, and miscellaneous living expenses. Then subtract out only the free money (grants and scholarships) to make sure you're really comparing apples with apples.
• Compare the quality of the schools. Is your top choice highly ranked and the generous school a local community college or other school that isn't of the same quality? If so, take a moment to consider things from the school's point of view. Sometimes you get what you pay for.
• If the true cost of your favorite school is significantly higher than another school of a similar quality, BEFORE YOU SEND IN A DEPOSIT BY THE MAY 1 DEADLINE, draft a polite letter to the financial aid office of your top choice. Explain how much you would add to the school and what a loyal alumnus you would be, and how sad it would be if a few thousand dollars stood in the way of such a winning combination. Include a copy of the more generous award letter and ask diplomatically if your top choice might have overlooked something about your finances that the other school noticed.
• Follow up a few days later with a telephone call, or, to show how serious you are, a personal visit. (Call and make an appointment, to be polite, of course.)
Can't afford your true costs?
• If you haven't already done so, fill out the FAFSA (and, if necessary, the PROFILE) immediately. Call the college's financial aid office and ask to apply for as much financial aid as possible.
• Calculate any potential savings that can be applied to reduce your true costs. Many middle-class families find that they are able to reap $2,000 to $3,000 in food, insurance, and miscellaneous savings when the student moves to college.
• Unless there's a good reason to the contrary, students should work summers AND during school and contribute a total of $4,000 a year toward college costs. Students should save $2,000 from a summer job to cover books and travel and should be able to earn another $2,000 to cover entertainment and miscellaneous expenses by working no more than 12 hours a week during school. (Working more than 15 hours a week has been shown to hurt studies.)
• The student can take on a reasonable amount of debt through the Stafford loan program. Freshmen are allowed to borrow $3,500. Sophomores can borrow $4,500. Upperclassmen can borrow $5,500.
• Find out if you are eligible to get any tax breaks such as the Hope or Lifetime Learning credits, or take an education deduction. Those could reduce April's tax bill by up to $2,000.
• Check to see if your employer has any education benefits.
• Apply for private scholarships.
• Consider delaying school for a volunteer year in AmeriCorps, VISTA, or similar program. You'll get a living stipend and $4,725 toward future college costs. Even better, a growing number of colleges are matching that grant with scholarships.
• Consider lower-cost educational options such as community college.
• Try studying and passing tests, such as the CLEP and DSSTs, to place out of the freshman year and thus reduce total educational costs.