Is that your best and final financial aid package?

If you’re a parent of an applicant receiving their admission offers, and the attached financial aid packages, you may have heard that your financial aid award might not be the college’s best and final offer. It’s possible to appeal your financial package and to secure yourself even more aid. But given how many families choose to do so, your odds of success improve if you remember a few important points.

Here are scenarios that increase your chances:

1. Your financial status has changed since you filed your FAFSA. For example, have you lost a job, have you incurred unforeseen expenses like medical bills, have you begun caring for an elderly parent, etc.?

2. Did you report any information incorrectly in your original FAFSA or other financial aid paperwork?

Either of those first two scenarios mean that the financial picture used to evaluate your need was incorrect or has since become outdated. Neither is a guarantee that a college will alter your aid package, but they are both compelling reasons to request that they reconsider, especially when you can provide documentation to substantiate the change.

3. Did your student receive a more generous package from a comparable college? “Comparable” is a tricky term here. Regular readers know that I don’t believe Princeton is somehow empirically better than Prescott College. But colleges know who their collegiate competition is. They know the schools most likely to admit—and to enroll—students from the same applicant pool. And put bluntly, they know their place in the pecking order. So if two schools that enroll students with similar qualifications give you very different financial aid packages, a compelling argument to reconsider can be made to the school who offered less aid. But it might be less effective to pit your reach school against your safety school in the battle for more financial aid.

Now, here’s some additional advice to help you avoid ineffective approaches:

1. Don’t base your argument on your student’s merit. You can give a publicist-worthy pitch about the relative strengths of your student. But that merit has already been rewarded with an offer of admission. Financial aid officers are more likely to respond to facts and data than they are pride and puffery.

2. Don’t sound entitled. Financial aid officers believe that aid should be awarded based on a family’s ability, not their willingness, to pay. Don’t base your argument on what you think you deserve. Base it on what you can prove that you need.

3. Don’t negotiate, play hardball, or do anything else reminiscent of buying a car. The financial aid officer’s job is not to put your student in this college today no matter what it takes. It’s their job to meet your demonstrated need while protecting the college’s assets. Treat the interaction like a facts-based, respectful discussion rather than a game of salesmanship, bluff, and bluster.