Feature Article: Lowering Your College Financial Contribution
By Jeannette Webb
Within the next few weeks, seniors around the country will end months of anticipation when their college acceptances and financial aid packages come in. What you need to understand is that these financial aid packages can be negotiable.
Keep in mind that in these tight economic times not only are many families struggling financially, but schools are as well. In fact, many colleges’ endowments have been severely eroded. I know of several top schools that eliminated merit scholarships altogether. This is particularly hard on those families whose income falls in the “middle income melt” range, when a family’s income is not low enough to qualify for lots of need-based assistance and not high enough to pay for a college education outright. It’s a tough spot to be in.
Estimated Family Contribution
A term you need to understand is EFC – Estimated Family Contribution. This is the amount of money the federal government determines a family can pay for college, based on the information filed in the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Most schools require the FAFSA. Some private schools also use the CSS/Financial Aid Profile, a service of CollegeBoard. The EFC is the same regardless of variable tuition, room, board, and fees at different schools. You can get an estimate of your EFC at: www.fafsa4caster.ed.gov
Maximize Homeschool Expenses
One way to possibly bring down your EFC is to fully maximize your homeschool expenses. We really are in a private school situation and bear many expenses that families in public school do not. Sit down and figure out how much it is costing you to educate your children. Go through checkbooks, credit cards statements, etc. and take good notes.
· educational books and materials
· magazine subscriptions
· science materials
· online classes
· co-op tuition
· college tuition (for those enrolling concurrently)
· umbrella school fees
· music lessons
· organizational dues
· tournament fees
· transportation to all these events
The public school has music, sports, debate, etc. and would pay for that if your children were there. Taking the time to document this information can help lower your EFC. While this information cannot be shown very well in the FAFSA or CSS Profile, we can write a letter explaining our circumstances to each college.
Appealing Financial Aid Decisions
Even if you present your homeschool expenses in the original financial aid applications, you might find they are overlooked. If so, you can always file an appeal. Check with the school for the exact process. Then write a letter fully explaining your circumstances. They want you to “paint a picture” of your situation so they fully understand. Don’t state that you deserve more or they have made a mistake. Just politely note the special financial circumstances they might have overlooked or not given due weight. This is especially true if another school has given your student more financial aid (considered your circumstances as worthy of more aid). Gently point this out to the admissions office.
Perhaps you have other extenuating circumstances as well that need to be detailed – debilitating disease, job loss, or pay reductions. Sometimes there are situations that cannot be detailed in the forms and just need further explanation. For example, my daughter was given work-study as part of her financial package. As an engineer also enrolled in a rigorous humanities sequence and a violinist, there were not enough hours in her day as it was. The financial aid office awarded her more grant and scholarship money since she was working so hard academically and eliminated the work-study component of her package.
I worked with Rhonda to make an appeal to her son’s top choice school:
“Right after I received your instructions on how to figure up my homeschool expenses, I spent a day collecting receipts and scouring my checkbook. We checked with financial aid at MIT and asked if they would receive this and reconsider their offer. They said they would review it. AND, glory to God, after submitting our home school costs to MIT, they refigured our financial contribution to be $4,000 less than before!
I wanted to say thank you again to you and your son and your fantastic articles with sound advice.”
In making an appeal, bring relevant information to their attention in a pleasant manner. Your approach can make a world of difference.
Jeannette Webb is founder of Aiming Higher Consultants, a firm dedicated to helping Christian students gain admission to great colleges. She has a heart of assisting parents as they train their children for excellence. Jeannette Works to empower families to make thoughtful choices for their younger children, to confidently navigate the difficult high school years, and then ace the college admissions process.
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