Colleges are incredibly stingy. Stingy when it comes to admissions offers. Stingy when it comes to need based aid. Stingy when it comes to well-deserved merit aid.
Don't get me wrong, some students score big time in this process. Most students do not, though. They take whatever they are given because they think admissions outcomes are set in stone. And some are. But sometimes, students have more power than they think.
Unfortunately, colleges tend to offer the least attractive option to students because they know few will complain. I'm here to tell you that if an offer is keeping you from enrolling at your top choice college, speak up. The squeaky wheel doesn't always get the grease in college admissions. But there's no chance of getting that grease unless you're a squeaky wheel.
Here's how to be an effective squeaky wheel:
1. If you didn't get as much merit money as you anticipated, reach out humbly and appreciatively to that college admissions officer who read your application.
Sometimes they don't have as much say in determining merit scholarships, but having an advocate in the process is what a student needs. Make sure you put it in writing. Review your accomplishments and clearly state that you see this college as the best place for you. And finally, make sure to include the better merit offers from other colleges. This last piece is the most powerful thing a student can do. When a college sees a better offer from a similarly selective college, they are more likely to increase the amount of the merit scholarship.
"If you want more merit money from your top choice #college, reach out and show off the better offers you received from other schools." TWEET THIS
2. If you didn't get as much need based aid as you had hoped, reach out to your admissions officer and financial aid officer.
At the very least, they will recommend that you fill out an appeal which will ensure that your financial paperwork will get an additional review. The appeal form allows a family to explain a financial circumstance that wasn't represented or didn't get fully explained in the original paperwork.
Families need to speak up and direct their issues to the admissions and financial aid office, but don't stop there. So many colleges are being strategic when it comes to a family's financial aid offer. For example, they might meet a student's need for freshman year to get the student to enroll and then they pull the rug out from under them for subsequent years by not offering as much aid. Or they expect the impossible from a family when it's clear that they can't afford to pay anymore. This is unacceptable. Go straight to the president if you don't get an answer. Most of the time, the president needs a reason to invest more money into need based aid.
3. If you got waitlisted, don't lose hope!
Last year, the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) reported that 39% of colleges used the waitlist to admit students last year. From 2015 to 2016, the number of students admitted off the waitlist increased 31%. Why? Because colleges are having a harder time predicting yield. But here's the thing—students can't get admitted off the waitlist unless they accept their spot on it. In other words, just because the student gets waitlisted, doesn't mean they are automatically considered for admission if there's room in the freshman class. And of the students who accepted their spot on the waitlist, few do anything else.
So if you still love that college that waitlisted you, follow up! Write a letter or email them, pledging your love to the college. While this follow up shouldn't be campy, it needs to be impassioned and purposeful about your abilities and the match between you and the college. Back when I worked in an admissions office, the students who got admitted from the waitlist had reached out and made a positive impression on me.
Admissions and financial aid decisions often feel impersonal, and many times they are. But force the colleges to make this personal. Maybe it's my Jersey roots, but I refuse to sit back and let unfair decisions affect our kids. Call it Jersey or being a parent, I tell families to speak up when it comes to admissions and financial aid. Colleges will rarely come back to a student and give them a better offer on their own. However, they often just need a push in the right direction.