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How to Get More Financial Aid From Your Child's First-Choice College

Did you know that initial award packages of financial aid may be negotiable?

That means you might be able to get more money from your child’s first-choice college. In fact, your preferred school may increase an award, even after you've sent in your deposit indicating your child's intent to attend.

While there’s no guarantee, these tips can improve your chances of getting more financial aid from your child's number-one school:

Know the Difference Between the Types of Financial Aid
The financial aid award offer will typically include a mix of financial assistance. Grants and scholarships are based on merit and need and don't have to be repaid. Work-study programs are jobs that students perform during college and may be related to their course of study. The money earned through work-study is used to pay for educational expenses. A loan is money that is borrowed and must be repaid, along with any interest accrued.

Pick Up the Phone and Establish a Connection
Now that you understand the types of financial aid, call the college's financial aid office and request to speak to the person in charge of your child's award. Let them know you are interested in learning more about the aid package, and then ask for the award details to be explained to you.

Most importantly, make sure you understand how the college arrived at the amounts for your grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans. If you submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), then likely some amounts are largely determined by the information you supplied. Inquire if there are ways that the award can be increased. You may be told that the award decision is final, but don't let that deter you.

Let the School Know They're Your Top Choice
Continue the phone conversation by telling the financial aid officer that their college is your child's first choice. Keep in mind that there are plenty of students who have been offered admission, and who have no intention of attending that college. And the college has allocated financial aid awards to that group.

Being completely frank about your child's preference may result in the financial aid office taking a second look at your child's award.       

Ask If Your Child Qualifies for School-Specific Scholarships
With all the applications due, you might have overlooked applying for school-specific scholarships. Now that your child has been accepted, ask the financial aid officer if your child qualifies for school-specific scholarships that pertain to their field of study, a special interest group, or a service organization.

Put It All in Writing
After hanging up the phone, it's time to put your request for an award increase in writing. Address the letter to your child's financial aid officer and reiterate that their college is your child's top choice. If you have debt or have more favorable award packages from other schools, now is the time to share them.

Detail Your Debt
The FAFSA doesn't capture your current debt and the related monthly payments. In your letter, detail your debt, including your mortgage, car payments, real estate taxes, and lines of credit.

If you are paying for medical expenses that are not covered by insurance or are responsible for costs associated with the care of a disabled or elderly relative, say so. It's important that the college factor in all your financial obligations, not just your household income, when calculating your award.

Share Financial Aid Awards from Other Schools
If other colleges have offered better award packages to your child, specify those amounts. Be sure to show the breakdown of grants, scholarships, work-study, and loans, including the subsidized vs. unsubsidized loans.

By seeing in black and white what your child is considering from other schools, the financial aid office may be inclined to up their award to be more competitive.

Confirm Your Child's Work History
Has your child held a part-time job throughout high school and have plans to work during college breaks and the summer? Even better, will your child seek part-time employment while at school, too? Make sure the financial aid office knows that your child is serious about helping pay for his or her education.

Finally, Offer to Forward Your Most Recent Tax Return and W-2
While the FAFSA reflects your most recent tax return, it's still a good idea to offer to send the actual return along with your household's W-2s. That way, the financial aid office can see your whole financial picture. This includes the pretax dollars your family allocates to 401(k)s and flexible spending accounts, and how those amounts reduce your take-home pay.

Negotiating for a higher financial aid award package from your desired college is not a quick endeavor. However, if you follow the tips above, the school of your choice will see a serious commitment from your child and your family, and may well increase the financial aid award offered.

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