Our expert: Reecy Aresty has been working as a financial planner for 35 years. His book, How To Pay for College Without Going Broke, gives tips for maxing out scholarships and aid. Here's the lowdown for you parents whose kids have just been accepted on how to get the most money for college.
"Right now, students are receiving their acceptance letters and award letters. Some will be disappointed with the money they got. If you write an appeal letter the right way, more aid might be forthcoming," says Aresty, who has counseled thousands of families.
When Your Child Is Accepted, Say Thanks
When he works with clients, Aresty has students start laying the groundwork as soon as they're accepted. "When students get an acceptance letter, they jump up and down and call all their friends. Ninety-nine percent don't do anything else. When you get a gift, don't you say thank you?" Aresty asks. "I have my students call the person who sent the acceptance letter. If a machine picks up, they leave a message. The student then sends a thank-you e-mail, calling for the e-mail address if necessary, followed by a hand-written thank you note." By the time the award letter arrives, the student has established a relationship at the school.
When the award letter comes, Aresty says, the number one rule is not to call the school. "Under no circumstance do you pick up the phone. And remember, the communication is not to you, but to your child, the student." He advises approaching the problem the way you'd approach your income tax bill. Would you call the IRS and say you're broke?
The Best Way To Appeal for More Aid
A professional like Aresty will help the student write an effective letter appealing for more aid. He charges a flat fee; for one college it's $395, which covers the student's four years. For 6-8 schools the fee rises to $995. He says Unigo has a roster of advisors like him. Some advisors offer free consultations to determine how much they can help a particular student, an offer Aresty extends to LGS readers.
"There are eight semesters of college, which gives you eight opportunities for financial aid. If you don't get any for the fall, you can appeal again in January. Maybe you've got dynamite grades or your financial situation has changed. Maybe other students have flunked out or transferred, freeing up some money."
In the appeal letter, Aresty counsels avoiding specifics like the average aid award versus what's been given to you. A classic opening line would be "We know that your institution has a proud tradition of meeting student needs, but it appears I've been left out in the cold." Of course, the letter should come from the student, not the parent. "The student signs the letter and the college feels it's dealing with a savvy kid," Aresty says. "The school might come up with another $5,000 or $10,000. Remember you don't have to pay sticker price for college." Another key is to ask for help, not money. "Schools get turned off when you ask for money."
When dealing with multiple schools, Aresty suggests not naming the other colleges you're considering. Instead, say, "I got X dollars from another institution."
Send your letter priority mail with signature confirmation. "That way you know who got it and when. If you don't hear back in two weeks, write another letter, enclosing a copy of your original letter. Don't accuse them of not responding; instead say that maybe the original letter was misplaced."
The appeals process for more money for college is multi-step. "In the first round, you don't ask for everything. If they say no, you still have something to fight for. And if they are responsive to you, you can always say you inadvertently didn't ask for something else."
What happens if it's May 1, and you have to make a choice, send a deposit in? Aresty advises you to keep negotiating. Believe me, it works, he says. "I've helped thousands of families send their kids to the college of their choice for less than they dreamed possible." His book, How To Pay for College Without Going Broke is an e-book, which allows Aresty to update it frequently.