Appealing to a College for More Financial Aid

The era of the financial aid appeal has arrived in full, and April is the month when much of the action happens.

For decades, in-the-know families have gone back to college financial aid officers to ask for a bit more grant money after the first offer arrived. But word has spread, and the combination of the economic collapse in 2008-9 and the ever-rising list price for tuition and expenses has led to a torrent of requests for reconsideration each spring.

Do not call it bargaining. Or negotiation. That makes financial aid officers mad, as they don’t like to think of themselves as presiding over an open-air bazaar. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t ask. At many of the private colleges and universities that students insist on shooting for, half or more of families who appeal get more money. And this year, for the first time, the average household income of financial aid applicants will top $100,000 at the 163 private colleges and universities that the consulting firm Noel-Levitz tracks.

Whatever you call your request for reconsideration, keep this in mind: For all of the real, important work of forging minds that goes on behind the ivy-covered walls, this is also an industry. The people who work in it are obsessed with carefully managing enrollment and making sure that they don’t give away too much money. To accomplish these goals, Carnegie Mellon uses proprietary statistical modeling, while consultants like Noel-Levitz sell revenue management systems and blog about merit scholarships that can serve as decision triggers. The real sin in the financial aid world is something called overawarding, lest the discount rate outpace the growth of net tuition revenue per student. <Read more.>

Via Ron Lieber, The New York Times.