Are you interested in a school but concerned you may not get enough financial help? Uncomfortable talking about money or your family’s finances?
If you answered yes, you are not alone.
Take a deep breath and reach out to your college’s financial aid office. Talking with a financial aid officer may give you insight into the amount of financial help you will receive, which is important if you are trying to figure out which colleges you can afford. And you may be able to get more financial help from the school you really want to attend.
You may reach out to financial aid before or after you have been accepted to a college. There are good reasons for both approaches.
Think about what you want to know – and what you want the college to know before you pick up the phone. And expect that the first conversation might be short, but you will be able to follow up by email if there is more work to be done.
Before You Have Been Accepted to a College
Have questions about how much a particular college might cost? Feel free to call before you apply – or while you are waiting to see if you get accepted.
It’s always good to know if you can afford the school you are applying to. First, be sure to get the basic information on the school’s website, including using a net price calculator. Then call if you have other questions. It’s important to get the information you need.
Also call if circumstances in your family have recently changed. Did a parent lose a job? Is your family dealing with large medical bills or debt? Are there big family expenses that the college is unaware of? Now is the time to reach out. The college may be able to adjust your aid package before you get your official financial aid offer.
After You Have Been Accepted to a College
Were you accepted to a school, but disappointed with your aid package? Follow these tips to get help:
1. Figure Out Who You Need to Talk To: At many colleges, financial aid and student billing are handled by different offices. If there are problems with your financial aid package, you should reach out to the financial aid office. If there are charges on your tuition bill that are confusing or seem incorrect, then you should reach out to the office that handles student billing, often called the Bursar’s Office.
2. Stay Calm and Positive: When reaching out to the financial aid or bursar office, be polite and respectful when speaking with staff. You may feel frustrated, but staff at both offices oversee a large number of student accounts. They understand you’re stressed. They are too, especially in the spring when acceptance letters and financial aid offers are sent out. The goal is to work together so you can get the funding you need to attend college.
3. Ask for Help with Your Financial Aid Package: Ask the financial aid officer to check your aid package, especially if the scholarship amount does not make sense given your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) in your SAR (Student Aid Report). Also ask what you need to do to “appeal” for more money.
4. Put Everything in Writing: As soon as you receive your financial aid package, send an email to the officer or staffer in charge of your student account. If you prefer, call the financial aid office first to get some guidance regarding next steps, but follow up with an email to confirm what you discussed and to thank them for their assistance.
It’s important to keep a record (digital or written) of all your communications with the financial aid office. If you don’t hear back from them within a reasonable amount of time (for rising freshman that means prior to the deadline to accept or your decline your admissions offer), resend your original email to remind them of your request and what needs to be addressed.
5. Appeal for More Money: It never hurts to ask for more financial aid. Do it! At many schools all you’ll need to do is send an email or written letter. (If you choose regular mail, send it registered with a return receipt so you have proof the financial aid office received it.) Explain any changes in your financial situation since you submitted your application, or at any time since filing your most recent tax returns. Remember, your FAFSA provides information from your last tax filing. This information can be a couple of years old by the time colleges see it. It’s important to let the financial aid office know if you have less money than they think you do.
Read our tips for explaining (and proving) how your family’s finances have changed.
Need more help talking to your financial aid office?
Niche’s Why an Honest Conversation with a Financial Aid Officer Matters, offers tips for introducing yourself. You will learn how to tackle difficult conversations and put your case for more money into a concise letter. (Even if you get help from someone on the phone, you almost always need to follow up with an email or letter.)
Not sure what questions to ask? Take a look at these helpful guides.
10 Questions College Financial Aid Advisers Which Parents Would Ask (U.S. News & World Report)
12 Financial Aid Questions to Ask your College (Forbes)
Get More Financial Aid by Asking These 10 Questions (Earnest)