All those hours spent perfecting your application paid off; you received that coveted fat envelope from your top college. There's just one problem, you've been offered a less than stellar aid package. Before you panic, consider another option.

Appealing your financial aid package

You see, the financial aid award letter sent from your college is an offer. And it's an offer you're under no obligation to accept. You can turn down a portion or even reject the award in its entirety (though we guess that's unlikely). You can also suggest alternatives. This is called "appealing" for more financial aid.

If one of your best-fit colleges did not award you enough money, it's worth a shot to appeal your offer. You have nothing to lose—a college will not rescind your acceptance because you want to appeal. In fact, when other admitted students decide to enroll elsewhere, award money earmarked for them becomes available.

How To Appeal

Before you commit to enrolling, contact the financial aid office. Here are four good points to keep in mind:

  1. Follow the school's rules! Some colleges have specific procedures to request additional funds. These will require your diligent attention and your painstaking follow–through.
  2. When you make the call (and we do recommend phone over email) explain that you have been accepted and received an offer of financial aid. Let the officer know that you want to enroll but are concerned about either unmet need or excessive loan debt.
  3. Be friendly, polite and sincere. Don't use words like "bargain" or "negotiate." Also, don't forget to make your requests before the deadline written on your award letter!
  4. Most schools won't alter the expected family contribution unless there was a change in circumstance (such as the loss of a job, divorce or death). Colleges will be more willing to modify your award to cover any "unmet need." Another alternative is changing a portion of your loans from unsubsidized to subsidized.

The Worst They Can Say is No

Appealing your award is NOT a sure thing. Colleges will have varying responses depending on your reasoning and their ability to adjust the circumstances. Many times they aren't able to offer any changes, but the only way you will know is if you ask. Check out our books Paying for College and 8 Steps to Paying Less for College for more information on financing your college education.