Congratulations! You’re a second semester senior in high school and you finally got all of your college acceptance letters in the mail (or on the school’s online portal). You feel on top of the world and absolutely nothing is coming in the way of you and your first steps on the campus of your dream school. Nothing, except for your bank account.
It happens to the best of us. We get into the school we were yearning to go to for years without any scholarship money and we also get into a school that offers tons and tons of money. The temptation is real, to say the least.
I’ve been there. In fact, I was actually in your shoes exactly a year ago, my dream school within my reach and my bank account pulling me back saying “Don’t destroy me, be rational about this”. However, through all my extensive college research, I came across a crucial piece of information that I will now share with all of you so you can avoid the stress of having to pick a school based only on the tuition.
There are three general scenarios that end up happening and I’ll be going into detail about all of these but just a disclaimer, these tips are very school and person specific so I’m not guaranteeing that you’ll end up getting more money but I think it’s definitely worth a shot – you don’t really have much to lose at this point!
Also, in all of these scenarios, you’ll want to deal directly with your financial aid office – don’t bother going through an advisor or even a Dean. As much as they may want to help you, they won’t really be able to. The financial aid office really is your best bet.
Without further ado, here’s how to handle some of the most common situations as well as some general tips on how to handle yourself in these situations!
Your family’s financial situation has changed from the time you filled out FAFSA or the CSS Profile.
This is actually way more common than you may think. Parents lose their jobs, a crazy medical emergency ends up taking precedence over your tuition, there’s a fire, there’s a flood, etc. Luckily for us, universities are extremely understanding about this. All you have to do is call the financial aid department and tell them what happened and why the tuition will be a deterrent to your attendance. It’s perfectly okay to try to negotiate the amount of financial aid you’ve received. Chances are that they’ll work with you and try to get you there if you stuck out to them as an applicant. Also, generally speaking, it doesn’t matter if this comes up in the middle of the semester either – just be honest and tell whoever’s in charge what happened as soon as you can and almost always, you’ll get some more money to help get you through school.
Two schools of the same prestige accepted you but only one gave you scholarship money.
This, too, is very common. In fact, this exact thing happened to me. In this case, negotiations are a must. It’s crucial to make sure that you were in the same academic range for both of these schools before taking any action but once you’re sure of that, it’s completely okay to reach out to the school that may not have given you any money at all and tell them about the situation. Personally, I ended up going to my dream school (where I am right now) and telling them that I was between them and another school which offered me a significantly larger scholarship. Make sure you emphasize to the school that you want that you actually do want them. This is a situation where the ability to sell yourself will really come in handy because you’ll have to make your dream school want you just as much as you want them. Ultimately though, college is a business and every school wants the best and the brightest to be theirs. If the school can see that you will be an active member of campus and make their school a better place, the chances that you’ll get more money are pretty substantial – that’s what ended up happening for me!
Handle yourself with humility.
Remember that no matter how great you were in high school and how outstanding your resume and transcript is, there’s another one of you out there at almost every school and you’re all competing for the same spots at college. Don’t walk into one of these meetings or give off the attitude over the phone that makes the other person feel like you think you’re the best they’ll ever find. Obviously, it’s important to master the art of the humble brag and play up your strengths but constantly talking about how much better you are compared to all other potential applicants is a recipe for disaster. Instead, speak about the programs that excite you about the university you’d like to attend and emphasize how important it is for you to get a well-rounded college experience that will be full of fun but also push you academically.
Understand your limits.
Asking Yale to give you the same amount of money as UConn is honestly, unrealistic. If your dream school is one that was a huge reach for you and your admittance was simply a stroke of good fortune, it may not be feasible for you to get more money out of them. However, in the same sense, don’t sell yourself short and go to one of your lesser-prestigious schools and fight your way to a full ride. Sure, it may sound appealing now, but it’s crucial to find somewhere that pushes you as well as gives you some time off; an all-or-nothing deal will only hurt you in the future.
Finally, weigh your own options and decide if the money is more important than the experience.
I’ve written about this before and shared that I personally think that the experience is worth the money, however, this may not be the case for you. If you don’t think that your dream school is worth the extra few thousand in loans and you’ve tried increasing the amount of financial aid you received, it may be time to move down the ladder and pick a more affordable school, even if it’s not your dream. On the other hand though, if it’s your dream and you’ve worked all your life to get there, even if the money they give you isn’t enough, you may want to consider shelling out the extra money and following your heart. Keep in mind, though, that when you get on campus and end up getting involved, it is possible to ask for more money, justifying it with your involvement on campus and how you’ve improved the overall atmosphere.
I wish you all way more than good luck in this next step of your lives. May the fairies of financial aid be on your side!