Financial aid awards from colleges have always, for better or worse, possessed an air of finality about them. Once applicants submitted all their paperwork, they basically had to accept whatever thin gruel of grants, loans, and work study a school deigned to offer, need be damned. Only rarely did applicants appeal their financial aid, and more rarely still did those appeals elicit further funding.
At least, that’s how college financial aid used to work…
The year 2020, if you haven’t noticed, ushered in what can be fairly described as a higher ed apocalypse. In February, The College Stress Test was published, wherein the authors constructed a stress test for estimating the market viability of more than 2,800 undergraduate institutions and concluded that 10 percent or so of the nation’s colleges and universities faced substantial market risk. Around the same time, I interviewed past president of NACAC Patrick O’Connor about the changes to NACAC’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practices that would trigger enhanced competition for new college students, almost guaranteeing that colleges would be aggressively courting applicants all summer long. Due to these factors and a host of others, many colleges were already facing financial fears going into the 2020-21 academic year.
Then COVID-19 hit.
We all know how much closing campus in the spring hurt colleges, particularly the ones without deep endowments. That suffering is water under the bridge now that we turn our attention to the fall. Even the most optimistic projections of campus openings envision classroom rotations, social distancing, shorter or longer terms, and lots and lots of online options. Yet, according to a recent College Pulse survey, more than 90% of college students believe they are entitled to a discount on their tuition fees if only offered online classes. Plus–and this is big–more and more students are at least considering gap years, service, work, or community college as alternatives to the uncertainty of whatever four-year schools have to offer.
If you can set aside sympathy for the widespread suffering across American colleges and universities, this crisis contains an opportunity. When available supply in the form of seats for paying students exceeds demand from students (and families) willing to pay for those seats, you have a classic buyer’s market. In fact, I can think of no time in recent history where first-time and returning college students had this much leverage. Why squander the moment?
Now is the perfect time to appeal your financial aid award. I just had lunch with a friend who submits appeals like these more regularly than anyone else I know. He described an environment where savvy negotiators can expect unprecedented financial incentives to commit to a school this fall. Hearing how much additional money he’s securing for his clients, I almost wish my kids were college students right now. Almost 😉
Are you a savvy negotiator? If so, you owe it to your family to appeal whatever financial aid package, no matter how generous, you’ve been offered. Dig deep into the kinds of offers other applicants receive, but use those numbers as a floor rather than a ceiling. The right aid package depends much more on their want than your need.
Be advised that you only get one bite at this mouthwateringly juicy apple per school per year. If you haven’t successfully negotiated an appeal of this type before, consider engaging an expert. Anyone who currently works with an admissions or college financial consultant should immediately ask if they have the experience and expertise to submit a successful appeal. If you don’t have anyone, contact me directly. As I said, I’ve got a guy who is the best in the business and will personally connect you. This time to act during this historical moment in financial aid is now. If you’re sending your son or daughter to college this fall, take advantage of your leverage and make an appeal.