Picture this. A teenage daughter with her heart set on attending an expensive private college. A mother who knew it was simply not affordable unless the financial aid award package was substantial. Waiting, waiting, and more waiting for the package to arrive after she heard she was accepted.
I’m sure this is the scene in many of your homes today. As a parent, you know the financial realities of paying for college. Your student, on the other hand, is thinking with her heart. If she’s like my daughter, she can’t see the picture from a financial perspective. After waiting for the award to arrive, my heart sunk. When her first choice college offered her “zero” financial aid other than student loans, I knew we were headed for a tough conversation.
If you’re bummed about your financial aid award package, what can you do?
First, compare awards from all the colleges
My daughter applied to ten colleges. Not all of them offered aid beyond student loans, but several of them offered scholarships and school grants. Sit down and compare the awards. Many colleges have implemented the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. If not, you can download the sheet and complete it yourself for each college. Look at the bottom line. Which college’s package gives you the best value: it’s what you can afford to pay and your student will graduate with minimal debt (if any)?
Second, if there are larger awards from other colleges, use them as leverage
Since one of the colleges that offered my daughter admission also offered her a full-ride scholarship, we had some leverage. If the college that your student is dying to attend doesn’t offer a substantial aid package and one of the other colleges she applied to does, use those figures for leverage. Have your student contact the college and let them know it is her first choice, but she needs more aid to be able to attend. Mention that other colleges are offering more aid and you would like them to at least match these offers. These appeals are common and most colleges will consider upping the ante if you just ask.
Third, if the college won’t offer more money, consider one of the other colleges that offer the best financial aid
After appealing the aid, and not being satisfied with the college’s decision, it was time for some tough love. I knew it was going to break her heart, but I had to be the logical one. If the money picture is bleak and her first choice college won’t budge, it’s time for your student to consider one of the other colleges that did offer financial aid. Take a deeper look at the other colleges, revisit if you have to, and make the final decision.
As it turned out, my daughter fell in love with one of the colleges that offered substantial aid. It was a perfect fit for her, and she was able to graduate with a very small amount of student loan debt. She thanks me every day that I led her in that direction. If she had attended her dream college, even with the outside scholarships she had won, she would have graduated with close to $75,000 worth of debt. It was a tough conversation, but one I’m glad we had.
Could this disappointment have been avoided? Absolutely. I should have had a serious talk with her before she applied about what we were willing to pay and what we expected her to pay. This way, she would have known that this college, although it was her dream to attend, was completely out of our financial reach.