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Not only does March bring green drinks, foul weather, and March Madness, it's also supposed to be the time college acceptances arrive with offers of financial aid. Well this year March madness has extended itself within the college ranks, beyond basketball, because of FASFA changes. So, it's Caitlin Clark and Mrs. Clark, the Director of Financial Aid at Iowa, that might make you jump out of your seat this year.

Here is a list of colleges that have already announced delaying the traditional May 1st decision deadline to allow more time to compare offers.

Preparing For The Best

Due to the disastrous launch of the new FAFSA which will delay admitted student's award letters, parents will have more time to prepare their appeals and negotiating tactics.

I'm not an apologist for the Department of Education, but I can make the rationalization that could make parents feel a little better about the delays. The Ivies and elite universities send out their Regular Decision admission and award letters in late March and early April. Now, everyone is in the same boat and there is safety in numbers.

Given the difficulties and new complexities of the financial aid process brought on by "simplification", financial aid administrators are being directed to avoid verifying student and parent financial information, unless there is an obvious conflict of information, like showing interest on a tax return without showing an asset on the FAFSA, inconsistent US residency requirements, etc. Otherwise, it is highly unlikely that anything you put down on the FAFSA regarding business, farm, or asset values will be questionedThe same goes for which of the student's parents (separated/divorced) provides the lion's share of financial support.

A significant change to the financial aid formula that must be dealt with is the elimination of the discount given to families with multiple students in college at the same time. If a parent has two students in college this year, and the aid packages are significantly different from last years awards, then I would definitely make an appeal.

Because colleges are businesses, what would seem to make sense is that everything else being equal, colleges will "grandfather" last year's aid package. But how much good sense will depend on the institution. In my humble opinion changing course in mid-stream isn't good for anyone, especially when new admission applications are down at a majority of colleges. Of course, for current students' parents will have to wait until summer for the packages to arrive.

Another change that could substantially reduce the amount of aid a student would have received in 2023-2024 or earlier is the inclusion of a business or a farm.

If you have an extraordinary financial situation or circumstance, you will write an appeal letter.

Appealing Award Offers

I want to caution against a few things. One is to refrain from telling the college how much your student wants to go there. To them it doesn't matter. Don't tell them how great of a scholar your student is, either. They know. It makes no impression. Another is telling them you have better offers from other schools-- at least on the first attempt, as that is better left to negotiate with the admissions department.

Provide facts and avoid emotional language. To be frank, your story of woe will not make an impression. There is nothing you can tell them that they haven't heard before. Think of the IRS: do they care about anything other than figures? Financial aid personnel use formulas, follow policies, and answer to the Director of Financial Aid, not to parents. Here are three basic steps in making an effective appeal.

The First Step

Visiting the college's financial aid website is a great place to start. Here is an example of what you are looking for: Financial Aid: Appeal for Reconsideration.

Not all college web sites have specific instructions on how to appeal an award. If that is the case, you'll have to contact the financial aid office and ask what they recommend you do.

If instructed to write a letter, you will be asking for what is known in the trade as a Professional Judgement (PJ), which is a review of your circumstances.

It's important that you follow their instructions as best you can.

The Second Step

Keep in mind that because of delays, financial aid staffs will be overwhelmed trying to get award packages out. I suggest acknowledging that reality with a sentence that like: "I understand your problems associated with FAFSA Simplification, and that you could be overwhelmed and short staffed. Whatever I can do to make reconsidering my student's appeal easier please let me know."


Then you will want to explain the situation as briefly as possible. You aren't writing War and Peace here. A page and a half is all that anyone will have time for.

You are going to write no more than three or four paragraphs that go directly to the heart of the matter:

  1. Write exactly WHY you are asking for additional aid. In other words, write exactly what happened.

  2. Explain what this MEANS. For example, losing a job means that unemployment insurance and savings will not be enough to cover the cost of college you were prepared to pay.

  3. Tell them what you are already doing to IMPROVE your situation. This might be cancelling all your streaming services; eliminating nights out; cancelling planned vacations, etc. until new employment has been secured.

Include supporting DOCUMENTS that back up your claim. This could be a termination letter, statement of unemployment benefits, even an income and expense statement.

The Third Step

Depending on the aid offices process, you will send your appeal letter and documentation. If you have a name to send it to the fastest way is email. Sometimes you will only have "" as an address: so, it will be going to whoever opens it up and then that person will forward it to the appropriate person.

Be prepared to send a letter via Priority Mail to back it up as well. In either case, if you don't have the name of a specific person, you can find the directory of financial aid personnel and match as best you can the title of the person to the role they are assigned. Sometimes, there is no directory. You can try and call the financial aid office and ask who is the best person to send it to, or just send it to the aid office. However, having a name to follow up with is ideal, so make every effort.

When it comes to paying for college and getting the best deal you can, don't be afraid of asking for more aid-- or at least some if none was offered. This mostly only works with private colleges, but you could try using a state school's lower price tag as a bargaining chip with an expensive private school. If you're denied, you've lost nothing. They might just say yes!

Negotiating A Better Price

The best way I can communicate how to negotiate a better deal on tuition is to compare it to buying a car. Smart shoppers visit multiple dealers to see what makes and models that have the features they want and get a quote. Having several offers in writing from other dealers gives the consumer a position of strength.

Not all colleges negotiate. State universities cannot, but many private institutions will do so if pressed.

Colleges hate to admit it, but they negotiate all the time. They just don't call it that. They hate to be compared to a "used car". So, parents shouldn't refer to that word either.

To increase your chance of negotiating the lowest price, a student should have offers from a few colleges that share similar characteristics, like cost, selectivity, athletic conference, and their histories of awarding aid. Like a car dealership, some colleges just won't offer more without seeing a competitors offer.

A successful negotiation includes not showing your cards right away. See what the college will do if you just ask for additional funds to HELP better afford them. Many colleges will increase their award package just by you asking. If they don't respond or turn you down, don't take no for an answer. Now, would be the time to show some cards.

One thing to be aware of, is that just like car dealers colleges have quotas to meet. In the months leading up to May 1st, admissions staff are counting the number of enrollment deposits. They are very nervous about not meeting their magic number. So, in many instances are likely to "sweeten the pot" with additional dollars.


Unlike an appeal which the parent writes, it is the student who contacts the colleges and initiates the negotiation. Even if our staff prepares the communication, it must be written and look like the student wrote it, and it must be sent from the student's email address.

Lastly, don't believe the urban legend that if you ask for more money the student will have their offer of admission rescinded. Don't take no for an answer until you've been denied three times! Then that would be the time to consider other options.

As you know, the financial aid system is going through a sea change. FAFSA problems are many, and there are millions of students who haven't been able to file yet.

For those students who were able to file, the Department of Education hasn't been able to provide colleges with the information they need to create student aid packages. While colleges should have access to FAFSAs by mid-March, it may take more time to get the awards.

Colleges normally download FAFSAs periodically so they can work at a sane pace. This year is quite different. Be patient and check each college's web portals for updates. Don't call the colleges. I wouldn't even bother emailing them until after the award is created. Then you can make your appeal or negotiation.

Because this is the first time in 45 years anything like this has happened, only common sense can be your guide through the minefield of financial aid.

WMWM College Planning Update: March 2024

March 19, 2024

Lindsey Curry

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