The month of April brings many things, including blooming flowers, pollen-covered cars, unrelenting allergies, and warmer days.  Additionally, a new stage in the college selection process begins for high school seniors as admission decisions and financial award notifications are shared by colleges.  With many families, April will also be a time when things happen rapidly. This decision season brings waves of emotions as students share news about acceptance, waitlist, and/or decline statuses within their college prospect pool with family and friends. While holding a celebration for the receipt of an offer of admission is justified, it can also be premature if the sticker price for tuition exceeds family resources.

Most students learn about an acceptance from a college in early April and then send an enrollment deposit by May 1st to reserve a place in the entering class and residence halls.  Families will face many questions that will need to be answered before a final decision emerges and the topic that comes up most is what to do if the aid package to the first-choice school does not make attendance possible. 

Financial Aid and Awards 

It is important to note that financial aid officers cannot read minds.  They cannot determine what a student can pay based on your zip code, high school attended, or Colleges don’t know how to interpret a family’s situation if they have not been presented with information about a student’s talents for scholarships and/or what amount of need-based aid is needed make attendance possible.  

This is where applying for and meeting deadlines for merit scholarships, filing a FAFSA (and CSS Profile if required by your college), sending the results to your colleges, and opening up a dialogue with the financial aid office can work to your benefit.  Many families may be reluctant to discuss personal financials with college aid officers, but unless you communicate your circumstances and have the ability to document your need, the assumption is that the offered package is acceptable.  I do not want to make it sound like haggling is allowed, but colleges do have funds to help make attendance possible for accepted students, but there must be a way to justify the use of the funds.

Average Academic Scholarship 

I am aware of a high school senior who claims to be ‘average’ academically with a 2.5 GPA.  He had his heart set on a particular school that offers his specific major, so he applied and was recently accepted.  This admission notification was quickly followed by an award letter showing that he was being given a $12,000 per year scholarship.  

While the student celebrated and is grateful for the award, the challenge is that the annual tuition exceeds $35,000, so there are still out-of-pocket costs of over $20,000 that are not sitting in the family’s checkbook.  They had not filed a FAFSA, which could identify any Federal, state, or institutional eligibility for need-based aid a possibly reduce the remaining cost.  The family made the decision to complete their FAFSA homework and had their results sent to the college.  Additionally, the student also made the mature decision to commute from his family home to help reduce the costs, which is a variable they had the ability to control themselves.

Take The Initiative

Of greatest value, the family made the brave step to reach out directly to the college to discuss their situation with financial aid officers.  It took under a minute to locate names and phone numbers on the college website, so the dialogue started.  With the FAFSA results received, they are moving through the school’s established appeal process and we hold out hope that this honest dialogue with the college will result in the identification of a manageable cost to the family…and a college will receive a motivated student who wants to be there. The goal is to have everyone win, so be persuasive, but not pushy, in any negotiations about award packages.