Categories
Affordability

4 tools to Compare Offers and Help Families Successfully Appeal for More Aid

Your Aid Package is Based on What The College Thinks You Need

Financial aid award letters have arrived! Families who have a clear understanding of their offers and then thoughtfully appeal for more financial aid money can receive thousands of dollars more in aid each year.  In an admissions season full of unknowns, schools are on the hunt to recruit new students. Families are in the driver’s seat when it comes to appealing for a ‘financial fit’ attendance price. 

“Colleges are more open to negotiating affordable aid packages now.”

Mark Salisbury founder of TuitionFit

Appealing for More Money Makes Good Financial Sense

Appealing for more financial aid is a common practice. Families ‘in the know’ have been asking colleges for more money for decades — long before the economic impacts of Covid. Everyone can appeal for more aid, but those facing income or job loss have even more leverage

I had a student who received a $30K per year merit award at his first choice, but he was also offered a full ride at his second. I worked with the family to write a merit aid appeal, and the first choice school increased his merit to $45k per year.”

Laurie Kopp Weingarten, Certified Educational Planner and President of One-Stop College Counseling

Understand What a College is Giving You vs What They are Loaning You

It’s crucial that you clearly understand aid that has to be repaid (loans), aid that is earned (work study) and aid that is granted (scholarship or grants) in their award letters.

You can find out the out of pocket costs for each college by doing an apples to apples comparison of all your offers. First, find out each college’s financial aid appeal process. Second, strategically craft and submit a clear and compelling letter. Third, include any required documentation or paperwork that helps support your appeal.

The best strategy for securing more financial aid from a college is to show them that a comparable institution has offered you more money.”

Neeta Vallab, founder of MeritMore

Are Online Tools Equally Useful?

There are online tools that can help families navigate the appeals process, but they’re not all as helpful as they could be. Here are four resources we evaluated for you:

MeritMore | Compare Offers and Appeal Letter Generator 

  • Unlimited apples-to-apples comparisons of all financial aid offers received
  • Crowdsourced merit aid amounts from similar students for the same colleges, including historical data
  • 1st year out-of-pocket calculation, estimated 4-year cost, and recent graduates median income
  • Customized “smart letter” technology auto-generates appeal letter incorporating comparable offers
  • Free 

TuitionFit  | Compare Verified Offers

  • Unlimited apples-to-apples comparisons of all financial aid offers received 
  • Crowdsourced prices and aid amounts offered to similar students no matter what college the award came from
  • Verified data
  • Historical data
  • Free with upload of financial aid award letter

College Board | Offer Calculator

  • Compare 4 offers at once
  • Percentage breakouts of costs 
  • Free

Lending Tree (Student Loan Hero) | Financial Aid Calculator

  • Compare 3 offers at once
  • Percentage breakouts of costs 
  • Matches consumers to lenders (not all qualify for advertised loan rates)
  • Free

A Closer Look at MeritMore’s Compare Offers & Appeal Letter Tool

MeritMore’s new tool for streamlines the appeals process for all families who are asking a college for more money. Features include:

  • Unlimited apples-to-apples comparisons of all financial aid offers received (crowdsourced merit aid amounts from similar students for the same colleges, including historical data)
  • Calculations of 1st year out-of-pocket cost and estimated 4-year cost
  • Data on median incomes of recent graduates
  • Customized ‘smart letter’ technology auto-generates an appeal letter that incorporates comparable offers
Compare College Financial Offers Image
Appeal Letter Generator Image

Appealing for More Aid is an Important Step in the Process

You can save thousands of dollars per year on the cost of college if you take the time to negotiate for more money. Asking a college for more money will not negatively impact you. In fact, it’s one of the most important steps in the process of making your final decision about which college you’ll attend. 

A smart consumer always tries to find the best deal possible and you should too. While appeals aren’t always successful, don’t self-select yourself out of getting more money simply by deciding not to ask.

Categories
Affordability

5 Powerful Things to Say in a Financial Aid Appeal

You can save thousands of dollars per year on the cost of college if you take the time to appeal for more financial aid. If the situation fits, here are 5 compelling reasons to give a college why you’re appealing for more aid.

Reason 1: A Comparable College Offered You More Money

Colleges enrollments are down. Colleges want the students they’ve admitted to attend and they’re ready to negotiate. 

The best strategy for increasing your financial aid package is to show a college that another school with similar acceptance rates offered you more money. First, it’s important to compare college offers. Putting your out-of-pocket cost for each college in a grid is a useful way to organize offers. Then, appeal for more financial aid.

Reason 2: Your Family’s Financial Situation has Changed

A negative change in your financial picture is always an important reason to appeal for more money. Significant out of pocket medical expenses or a separation, divorce or death of a spouse are good reasons to appeal. If you’ve experienced a pandemic-related loss of income or if it’s looming, e.g. you’ve been notified that your company will be laying off employees in the coming months, you’re in an even better position to negotiate for more aid.

Everyone can appeal their financial aid package, but those facing income or job loss have even more leverage

Reason 3: Your EFC is Higher than the College’s NPC Estimate

You can’t always rely on a college’s net price calculator (NPC) to give you an accurate Expected Family Contribution (EFC). If the EFC on your award letter is higher than the college’s calculator initially indicated, you should ask for more money. 

First calculate your net cost, aka out-of- pocket cost by finding the cost of attendance on your award letter and subtracting your gift aid from it to get your out of pocket cost. Then, indicate the amount of money your family will need to attend the college.

A tool like MeritMore’s free Compare Offers and Appeal Letters tool does an apples to apples comparison of all your financial aid offers, including your estimated 1-year and 4-year year out-of-pocket costs.

Reason 4: You Entered Incorrect Information on the FAFSA

Mistakes happen. Unfortunately, if you’ve made a mistake on your FAFSA it can cost you. The good news is you can correct your FAFSA. Let your college of interest know what happened in your appeal letter and show them supporting documentation to make your case. 

Fortunately, there’s also good information online that will take you through the steps of writing an effective appeal letter.

Reason 5: You Provide Regular Financial Support for Family Members

Helping to pay for the care of elderly parents or extended family members or paying school fees for other children is common for many families. Write an appeal letter to the college and provide documentation for these costs.  

Financial aid officers need facts and figures to make a decision about increasing financial aid. Make sure you include any paperwork that will support your appeal.

If you don’t ask for more money, you won’t get more money. 


Appealing your financial aid package won’t impact you negatively. In fact, it’s one of the most important steps in the process of making your final decision about which college you’ll attend.  A smart consumer always tries to find the best deal possible and you should too. You can find step by step instructions on how to appeal for more financial aid online. While appeals aren’t always successful, don’t self-select yourself out of getting more money simply by deciding not to ask.

Categories
Affordability

5 Reasons Why You Should Appeal for More Financial Aid

Asking For More Money is the Right Thing to Do

Appealing for more financial aid is a smart move for families. College is one of the biggest investments a family can make. Savvy consumers negotiate the best deal from a college. There are 5 great reasons why you should too.

First: You Are the Consumer and You Should Negotiate Your Best Financial Deal

Universities routinely tell families that ‘no one pays sticker price,’ but it’s hard to figure out exactly what other people do pay. Your estimated financial contribution (EFC) depends on the gift aid (awards and scholarships) and loan aid (money that has to be repaid) you receive. Online tools can help you see what other families pay for college. An online tool like MeritMore will give you insight into the amount of merit aid that you’re likely to receive from any college you’re interested in. 

Everyone pays a different price for college. You are the consumer and you should negotiate the best financial-fit deal for your family. 

Second: Appealing for More Money Makes Good Financial Sense

College is too expensive for most of us. If you can’t comfortably pay for school or if you have to take on outsized loans to pay, you should appeal for more financial aid. 

Most colleges don’t meet the full financial needs of a family. And if they do, it’s most often with a combination of merit aid and loan aid which you have to pay back. 

You can save thousands of dollars per year on college costs if you take the time to appeal for more money. 

Third: Your Aid Package is Based on What The College Thinks You Need

Families often think the financial aid package they’ve received is the school’s absolute and final judgement. Not true! Don’t self-select yourself out of the possibility of getting more money. 

The best strategy for increasing your financial aid package from a college is to show them that another college with similar acceptance rates has offered you more money.

Fourth: You Can Add Back the Financial Aid Money You Didn’t Get

College enrollments are down and most schools are struggling with many issues. The pandemic tanked the economy and most experts think it will take years for it to bounce back. Financial aid officers know that most families are already struggling or are worried about what their future might look like. 

Families are in the driver’s seat when it comes to appealing for more financial aid. Colleges want to enroll students and are more willing than ever to negotiate. 

Fifth: If You Don’t Ask for More Financial Aid, You Won’t Get More Financial Aid

Asking a college for more money WILL NOT negatively impact you — you’ve already been admitted! Just make sure you show gratitude for your first financial package, then respectfully ask for more money. You can find step by step instructions on how to appeal for more financial aid online. 

Remember, as a smart consumer it’s your responsibility to try and negotiate the best possible deal for your family.

Categories
Affordability

7 Easy Steps to Appeal Your Financial Aid Package

Appealing for more financial aid is an excellent way to make college more affordable.

A college education is the second biggest purchase—the first is buying a house—that a family will make in a lifetime. As a buyer, your main goal should be to negotiate for a lower price. Asking for more financial aid makes good sense.

Yes, You Should Always Negotiate a Better Deal

For many families, the idea of negotiating with a school for more money is a new concept. But families ‘in the know’ have been asking colleges for more financial aid long before the pandemic shut down the economy.

Yes, Negotiating Can Make College More Affordable

From 2008 to 2021 in-state tuition at public universities increased by a whopping 72%. The truth is, college has become too expensive for everyone but the very wealthy. However, there are ways for families that aren’t loaded to make college more affordable

Yes, Use a Strong Negotiating Strategy

The best strategy for increasing your financial aid package from a college is to show them that another college with similar acceptance rates has offered you more money.

The 7 Step Financial Aid Appeal Process

Step 1: Determine The Policy for Appeals

Go to the college website to see if their appeals policy is published. If it’s not, contact the financial aid office and ask them what steps you need to take to file a financial aid appeal.

Step 2: Thoroughly Understand Your Award Letter

Make sure you understand the information on your offer letters.  Don’t worry if you find your offer letters confusing—you’re not alone. Financial aid letters vary college by college. It’s difficult to see the breakdown of loan aid (you have to pay it back) versus gift aid (grants or scholarships you don’t have to pay back ) in the final cost. There are online tools that can help you make sense of your offer letters.

Step 3: Compare Your Financial Aid Awards

Compare all your aid packages. Calculate your net cost, aka out-of- pocket cost. This is what you’ll pay for the school minus the gift aid (money that you don’t repay) you’ve been awarded. Find the cost of attendance on your award letter and subtract your gift aid from it to get your out of pocket cost.

A resource like MeritMore’s free Compare Offers and Appeal Letters tool does an apples to apples comparison of all your financial aid offers, including your estimated 1-year and 4-year year out-of-pocket costs. 

Step 4: Ask For More Money

Write an appeal letter. Keep it short and simple. Tell the college that you are creating a financial plan for tuition and expenses. List the competitive offers that you’ve received. If you have other circumstances that have impacted family finances, be sure to list those also. Respectfully ask the college to consider increasing your aid package. 

You can find online tools to help you craft an appeal letter. MeritMore’s tool will instantly generate an appeal letter for you. 

Step 5: Show Them the Proof

Include any documentation that will help your case. Scan the offer letters you’ve listed in your appeal. If you’ve indicated a change in your financial circumstances, scan any documents you have as proof of loss of income or of significant regular payments you’re responsible for, e.g. income that goes toward taking care of elderly relatives, etc. Make sure you include any special forms that the college requires.

Step 6: Double Check Your Work

Review your letter! If you are sending more than one appeal letter, carefully check to see if your financial aid officer’s name and the college they work for match. Also, check to see if you’ve spelled their name correctly. 

Step 7: Get the Subject Line Right

Once you’ve thoroughly checked all the information on your letter, you’re ready to email it to the financial aid office. Make sure your subject line is clear and informative. Financial aid officers get hundreds of appeal letters. Be sure to include your student’s name and year, e.g. Financial Aid Appeal for John Doe class of 2021. 

Paying for College is Like Taking on Another Mortgage

Universities are one of the few industries that sell the same product at personal prices. You can save thousands of dollars per year on the cost of college if you take the time to negotiate for more money. Always remember: if you don’t ask for more financial aid, you won’t get more financial aid. 

Categories
Affordability FAFSA

FAFSA Updates: All The Big Changes You Need to Know (2021)

2020 wrapped up with the passage of a $900 billion fiscal stimulus package and a $1.4 trillion government funding deal, which also included some long-awaited reforms to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There has been a lot of discussion about the rebranding of the EFC (Expected Family Contribution), but there are some very important practical changes that families should be aware of.

When will changes apply?

The changes will apply to families applying for the 2023-2024 academic year. Parents completing the FAFSA as early as October 1, 2022 will be impacted.

Student financial aid expert, Mark Kantrowitz, highlights the most important FAFSA changes in this information-packed interview.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy gets to the bottom of the changes coming to the FAFSA. Check out the post on New FAFSA Changes–Winner and Losers.

What are the most significant changes to the FAFSA?

Here is what you need to know.

  • ‘Expected Family Contribution’ will be replaced with the ‘Student Aid Index.’ Outside of semantics, it’s unclear if this change will have any real impact on families.
  • The length of the FAFSA will decrease significantly — down from 108 questions to about 3 dozen.
  • The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be able to pull more data. Hopefully, this tool will also be made more reliable, given how buggy it seemed in the fall.
  • Custodial parent rules will change so that the parent providing the most financial support will be considered the ‘custodian’ and not the parent who is housing the student.
  • Contributions to college expenses made by grandparents (or other family members or friends) will not penalize students. This is a significant change as these contributions are currently treated as the student’s untaxed income and are assessed up to 50% by the FAFSA formula.
  • Households with multiple children in college at the same time will no longer be eligible for a break in financial aid eligibility. This is particularly significant for parents of multiples. We’re hoping lawmakers might find reconsider this rule as this change will have a significant negative impact on many families.


Also, check out Mark Kantrowitz’s great article on eligibility and family filing rules.


Categories
Affordability

Yes — You Can Relax About the Cost of College! Here’s How.

Tap into a few tricks that can ease your mind about how to pay for college

Tip 1: Know that aid is available to everyone.

You don’t have to be a financial aid whiz or “an insider” to get financial aid. You can tap into lots of different types of financial aid. What most people don’t realize is that financial aid is a puzzle — you combine grants, scholarships, your own income and more to piece the entire financial aid puzzle together. You can tap into grants, scholarships, work-study and loans.

Grants

A grant is a form of financial aid that you don’t have to repay unless you don’t fulfill a specific obligation, such as you don’t teach, even though you accept the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant. 

  • You can get federal grants, such as Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.
  • You can also get state and other institutional grants for college. A great example is the Iowa Tuition Grant, which is offered in my home state.

Scholarships

Scholarships = free money, and many families don’t know where to start to look for scholarships, and that’s understandable. In fact, it’s one of the most perplexing parts of the college search: Where to find scholarships. You’ll hear, “There are scholarships out there…” 

But… where?!

You can find various scholarships by asking around at: 

  • Your school counselor, TRIO counselor or college and career center office
  • Civic organizations 
  • Your church
  • The company you work for 
  • Your parents’ companies
  • Scholarships and universities for merit-based scholarships 
  • Your local library
  • Federal agencies
  • State grant agencies

Don’t forget to look for scholarships on:

Work-Study Jobs

The federal work-study program lets you earn money to pay for school by getting a part-time job on or off campus. You must file the FAFSA in order to get a work-study job.

Loans

Loans might be your last choice option for paying for college but they’re a great way to “plug” the gaps between what you can afford to pay out of pocket and all other financial aid opportunities. 

  • Private student loans: Private loans offer a higher borrowing limit compared to federal student loans. You may need a cosigner to get a private student loan. Cosigners must undergo a credit check to prove your creditworthiness. You can use a private student loan to pay for college tuition fees, room and board, textbooks, laptops or computers, transportation costs and living expenses.
  • Federal student loans: You can get federal student loans through the U.S. Department of Education. Federal student loans offer lower interest rates and flexible repayment plans for borrowers compared to private student loans. You must submit the FAFSA, which requires you to fill out information about you and your parents’ financial status, especially about income and investments.

Tip 2: Don’t discount your parents’ (or your own!) current income.

Never, ever discount your current income’s power potential. It packs a potent punch, especially when you sit down and figure out how you can divert money toward college instead of things you normally spend money on. 

For example, let’s say your parents are really close to paying their house off. Your house is not one of the things that you list on your FAFSA, so it’s not benefiting you to hold onto a mortgage. Why not try to pay it off in one lump sum and divert that money toward college?

Tip 3: You can use a tuition payment plan.

Colleges let you break up payments just like your mortgage lender lets you make payments. What’s even better about tuition payment plans is that they usually don’t charge interest like a mortgage or other type of loan. 

An installment plan for college can have several different names: 

  • Monthly payment plan
  • Tuition installment plan
  • 10-month (or 8-month or 9-month) payment plan
  • A branded name from the college or university your child plans to attend

Let’s say you have a $10,000 out-of-pocket cost, the remainder after taking scholarships, grants, federal student loans and other aid into consideration. Let’s say your college-bound student’s school offers a 10-month payment plan. You simply spread that $10,000 over 10 months, which results in a $1,000 monthly payment.

Tip 4: Approach colleges and ask what they can give you.

Talk to individuals at colleges — financial aid professionals and admission counselors — and have very specific conversations about costs.

I spent 12 years in college admission and I know for a fact that when I talked to families about costs, they understood the costs better, understood our scholarships and merit-based aid and also asked very specific questions (and got specific answers in return!) about their personal situation. 

Do not — I repeat — do not sit at home, staring at a website, freaking out about the cost all by yourself. Call the schools your child is interested in and talk to people who work there.

Step 5: Know you have the power to negotiate. 

You’re not powerless once you get your financial aid award. In reality, you have a lot of power in your hands because colleges ultimately need to fill their seats and their bank account!

When you get a financial aid award that’s out of your range, you can ask the financial aid office at the school you really want to go to for more money.

College Isn’t Out of Reach 

I’ll repeat what I already said — don’t sit at home by yourself with a computer screen, looking at screen after screen of scary numbers. 

Reach out to colleges and other people (school counselor, a state organization like Iowa College Access Network) and ask for help. You’re never, ever alone in this journey — ever. 

Bio: Melissa Brock is a 12-year veteran of college admission, founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her free essential timeline and checklist for the college search!

Categories
Affordability

College Unaffordability Perception: How to Keep it from Wreaking Havoc on Your College Search

When you’re starting the college search, it’s easy to hit a few brick walls.

What’s one of the major not-so-soft landings? 

Yep: The sticker shock that accompanies every website you scan, every pamphlet you read, every conversation you have about college.

How are we going to afford this? How will we pay for this? 

I worked with families for 12 years in college admission and heard all the fears, the frustrations — everything. 

Pervasive Myths About the College Search 

You may already know the pervasive myths about the college search — you may be thinking them yourself already! Check out the top three myths you should strike from your thoughts immediately.

Myth 1: The sticker price is everything.

No! The sticker price is never how much it costs to go to college. One thing that I find really frustrating is that people often take one peek at the “costs” page on a college’s website, gasp, then close out immediately. They freak out right away because the cost is this astronomical figure that they know (or actually think they’ll never be able to pay). 

Think of the sticker price on a car in a car lot. Do you ever pay the sticker price in the window of each car? No! You negotiate, right? 

(By the way, the average cost of a private college always seems to be in line with the same cost of a brand new car. Have you ever noticed that? If you buy a car every year, hold onto the one you have and buy four years of college instead.)

Myth 2: Kids don’t get scholarships unless they’re really, really smart.

I know firsthand that students with not-so-perfect grade point averages get scholarships. In fact, most of the students I know were admitted to college with merit-based scholarships. What’s a merit-based scholarship? A merit-based scholarship is a scholarship that’s not based on need (or income). 

If your student has a “B” average grade point average, your child can get a merit-based scholarship for college in the United States. (You just have to find the right college or university.)

Myth 3: We make too much money to file the FAFSA. Therefore, we can’t afford college.

Nuh-uh. Everyone should file the FAFSA, regardless of the amount of money you make. And filing the FAFSA will only help you. If you want your child to receive work-study, file the FAFSA. If you want your child to get federal student loans (the best loans around because of their low interest rates) you need to file the FAFSA.

It’s also important (and required) to fill out the CSS Profile at certain schools. File both the FAFSA and the CSS Profile.

Don’t Let Myths Disrupt Your College Search

You put the cost of college squarely within your reach by choosing financial fit colleges right off the bat. There’s nothing worse than finding out the total cost of a particular college down the road.

Before you and your child put together a list of potential schools, have the “financial fit” conversation with your son or daughter. This way, you’ll both be on the same page and the colleges you choose will reflect what you can afford. 

You can find your strongest merit aid match schools if you use a merit aid search tool like MeritMore.  


Melissa Brock is a 12-year veteran of college admission, founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her free essential timeline and checklist for the college search!

Categories
Affordability essays

Procrastinators, Get Your Personal Essay on Track

I don’t know how many of you are in the same boat. This Friday, we realized that our son was less than 2 weeks away from his November 1st deadlines. The status of his Personal Essay, supposed to be completed this summer, was ‘getting there.’ Let’s not even talk about supplementals. We’ve discussed this essay ad nauseam. Before things got really ugly, we did these three things this weekend:

GET THE ESSAY BACK ON TRACK

  • Review some of The College Essay Guys best essays and why they work. Ethan is great at this stuff.
  • Send a draft to Prompt, an essay editing service. We’ve used this service before. We are using it now. The writers are very professional, the feedback is focused and detailed, the turnaround time is 48 hours, and you only pay for what you use. Use this link for 20% off their standard fees. (I am not compensated by Prompt.)
  • Ask a trusted friend to take a look and offer guidance for a different perspective on Personal Essay

We got a premium Grammarly subscription to take us through admissions. It works right in the Common App text entry fields, which saves my son a lot of headache–typos and writing suggestions are built right in.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Categories
Affordability

Welcome to MeritMore

We spent months trying to find solutions to help us make better financial choices around the college admissions process. Along the way, we met other parents trying to do the same thing. We are excited to bring you a set of tools that enabled us to save literally thousands of dollars and endless hours of frustration and headache. We hope these tools are as helpful to applicants and their families as they were to use. Please let us know how the process is going and how we might help!

Best,

The MeritMore Team