Financial Aid

Can You Negotiate Merit Aid?

Financial aid -- need-based and merit -- is much on the minds of students and parents these days. As we get questions on these subjects, we will be posting responses here as blog post when we feel they may be helpful to a range of our readers  Today we answer one of our readers who posed this question in response to an earlier post titled "Can You Negotiate Merit Aid?"

Darryl wrote:  St.John University offered my son a 10k merit award. He also was accepted to Howard University. His first choice is Howard. Can I use the 10k merit award from St. John University as a bargaining chip so Howard could match or make a counter-offer?

Different colleges will handle this differently. Some schools will be flexible. For other schools, merit aid awards are final and non-negotiable, as noted by Purdue University's Pamela Horne in the article in this post.

However, colleges usually welcome all information about a student's financial situation. So it doesn't hurt to ask. But how you approach the college is key.

Help with Filling Out the FAFSA

The FAFSA is required for any student seeking federal and state financial aid, including grants and loans at all colleges in the country.  And the single biggest mistake students and families make in the college application process is failing to apply for financial aid by filing the FAFSA. It can seem complicated, but there is help available -- and it's free.  One of the best resources is College Goal Sunday, an information program that brings together financial aid professionals from colleges and universities along with other volunteers to assist college-bound students and their families complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  Calendars for their national programs, as well as state-by-state events can be found at their website here.

Who should file the FAFSA?

One of our readers posted a great question in response to a recent blog item, If You Applied Early.. Or not...

Bill wrote:

My son, a high school senior, applied to an out-of-state public college this fall (rolling admission) and has been accepted for Fall, 2012. In addition, he recently received from them a merit based scholarship that will make up a lot of the difference between in-state vs. out-of-state tuition. We see no reason to apply for financial aid through FAFSA, as the EFC calculations show us contributing more than it costs per year. I don’t see it worth going through the hassle. Do you agree?

Bill, first and foremost, check with the financial aid office at the college to which your son has been accepted.  While some colleges will tell you there is no need to file the FAFSA, other colleges will want -- or may require -- you to file the FAFSA so that they have it on record. You will want to be sure to fulfill all the requirements at the college where your son has been awarded the scholarship so that his award remains in good standing.

Patricia Cleary, Stuyvesant High School

Our first Counselor of the Month for 2012 is Patricia Cleary of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. Stuyvesant, known as "Stuy," is a public high school with a twist. Run by the New York City Department of Education, it is one of seven specialized schools where admission is determined by a competitive exam. With an enrollment of 3,317 students, its mission is to develop students' talent in mathematics, science, and technology. Ms. Cleary's mission is to help guide approximately 800 Stuy students through the college application process every year.

Douglas Christiansen, Vanderbilt University

Our inaugural dean answering five questions for us in 2012 is Douglas Christiansen, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.  Founded in 1873, Vanderbilt is a private research university with an enrollment of approximately 12,000 students, including almost 6,800 undergraduates. Christiansen oversees the selection and enrollment of  each year's incoming freshman class -- about 1,600 students -- as well as the offices of Student Financial Aid and Honors Scholarships. Join him here to learn more about the kind of student that thrives at Vanderbilt, how the Admissions office makes decisions,  why he believes the school's two rounds of Early Decision are a good idea, and how the future is shaping up on the 330-acre campus, part of which is a registered National Historic Landmark.

In case you missed it...

We have three terrific experts featured here this month and we wanted to take one more opportunity to bring them to your attention! In case you missed them, take the time to read our Q & A's with Kenyon Dean of Admissions Jennifer Delahunty and Pine Crest School college counselor Marcia Hunt, as well as the post featuring Vanderbilt Admissions Dean Doug Christiansen on the role of volunteer work in an admission decision. These are  consummate experts with advice helpful to all students and families going through the application process.

Next steps: An Early Acceptance

Every day this week, we'll be posting a series of "Next Steps" for students who have applied early and are receiving their notifications. First up, next steps for students who have been admitted -- Congratulations! -- under early decision (ED), early action (EA), or restrictive early action (REA). But first let us say that we're so happy you will have one more thing to celebrate over the holiday break! And when you catch your breath, here are some steps to address... Early Action and Restrictive Early Action EA and REA programs are nonbinding and students have until May 1 to inform the college whether they will enroll.

  • If the EA or REA school where you have been admitted is your first choice, you may want to inform them of your intention to attend and withdraw any applications to the other schools on your list. (We'll have more to say about this later in the week.)
  • If you are not sure you will attend the EA or REA school or your family will want to review and compare multiple financial aid awards, complete the applications to the other schools on your list.  (See the note on financial aid at the end of this post.)

Early Decision ED programs are binding and students must enroll if accepted.

"Work Your Butts Off": College Advice from Michelle Obama

You won't find any politics in First Lady Michelle Obama's visit to a "college immersion day" at Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown University, where she shared this terrific advice on the college application process. We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Thanks to Jenna Johnson's Campus Overload.

Financial Aid: Deconstructed

Here's a nifty video presented at the College Board Forum by Duke University's  financial aid director -- and College Admission contributor -- Alison Rabil. You'll find it here in this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which makes the valuable observation that "words that mean one thing in regular conversation can mean something entirely different in the financial-aid office."