Admissions decisions are trickling in, and almost all of them should arrive by April 1.
With plenty of “we regret to inform yous” alongside the “we are happy invite yous,” seniors should try to stay even-tempered during this time period (okay, you’re allowed to be pretty stoked if you get into one of your “reach” schools).
Remember: as long as you get an admit or two from schools that you can actually see yourself attending, your application process was a success! A mixed bag of admissions decisions is a sign that you picked a good group of schools. If you get admitted to all of your schools, you probably set the bar a bit too low. Either that or you’re just a mad genius.
But the process isn’t completely over yet—most students will have multiple “admit” letters to choose from. It’s now time to compare these schools and the X factor that makes everything more complicated: financial aid offers.
This week I’ll break down several important things to keep in mind as you choose a college. (Yesterday I covered your right to take time to make your final decision.) Check IN each day for more info.
(Money not an issue for your family? Great! Feel free to skip this post.)
Chances are that you applied to schools with a wide range of price tags. Most families count on financial aid to make the more expensive schools affordable. In a perfect world, you would pay about the same amount no matter where you decide to attend. This amount is the EFC (Expected Family Contribution) yielded by your FAFSA and other financial aid applications. Unfortunately . . .
Not all financial aid offers are created equal
Some schools will offer you an aid package that doesn’t fully cover the gap between your EFC and its cost of attendance. Others schools will offer you a package that is heavy in less-desirable types of aid—i.e., loans instead of scholarships and grants.
You probably won’t make a final decision without considering cost. You’ll need to compare your aid offers and look at the total amount of each package as well as the types of aid it includes.
You may be asking yourself why some schools will provide better aid packages than others. Part of it is simply the amount of money that different schools have for the most desirable types of aid—scholarships and grants. However, it is important to note that most financial aid is actually merit-based rather than need-based. Two students in the same financial situation may receive different aid offers from the same school if one is seen as a more desirable candidate. According to College Board’s 2010 “Trends in Student Aid” report, 58 percent of aid awarded by public institutions is merit-based.
Getting a better offer (if you really need one)
Fortunately, you can use schools’ proclivity to offer better aid for subjective reasons to your advantage. A great example of this can be found in a recent U.S. News article about schools that are willing to match aid offers from competing schools.
Even if your school isn’t mentioned in this article, however, you can have success in appealing its first financial aid offer. The only real prerequisite is that you have a good case for needing more money to be able to afford it. If this is the case, one of your parents should call the school and appeal its aid offer. This should be done before you’ve accepted any offers of admission so that you have some leverage. The school probably won’t give you a new offer on the spot, but it may call back with a better one. Here are some tips for the call:
- Be frank and cordial (but don’t be confrontational).
- If there are any financial circumstances of which the school might be unaware, bring them up.
- Don’t be shy about providing any superior aid offers you've received from comparable schools.
- Know the specific amount of aid that you want. (Be reasonable here).