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A Parents’ Guide to Conservatory Auditions, Part 22: Appealing Financial Aid

Karen Rile

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Published: April 4, 2014 at 1:48 AM [UTC]

Click here for a reference page to all of Karen Rile's series: A Parents' Guide to Conservatory Auditions


March may be the longest month, but April is the cruelest. After the excitement of learning that he’s been accepted to his first choice conservatory, your student receives his financial aid award letter, and poof! The dream is extinguished.

On one hand, there is what you believe you can afford; on the other hand, there is what the financial aid office expects your family to pay. If the gulf seems unnavigable, you can ask the financial aid office to reconsider your student’s award. But before you sit down to draft your appeal, stop a moment to reflect on your situation.

If your household has a very high EFC, and if this is your oldest and first child attending college, and if you do not have outstanding medical or other extraordinary expenses, then perhaps you are merely in the same boat as hundreds of thousands of other Americans caught in the higher education price trap. It’s a rotten place to be, but it is unlikely that your request will be granted. That’s why, back in September, your student picked a financial safety school. It’s time to re-evaluate how important it is for your child to attend this expensive program, and, if so, to think creatively for ways to finance it. See: How Do You Pay For It?, The Cost of Attendance, and How Do You Pay For It (Reprise).

On the other hand, if you believe that the reality of your family’s financial circumstances might have been unclear or that important factors could have been overlooked during the initial application, or if you situation has changed, then you should not hesitate to request a second look. The goal of the financial aid office is to make it possible for your student to attend; they won’t punish your child or rescind his aid just because you asked. Your job now is to produce a convincing narrative, backed up with documentation, that explains why your family needs more help. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Only appeal to your student’s first-choice program. This isn’t a bidding war. If you make an appeal, it should be understood in good faith that your child will commit, if and when the appeal is granted.

  • It’s okay for parents to communicate directly with the Financial Aid office. In the case of a financially dependent undergraduate, the parent needs to be the point person. It’s your financial information and tax documents that determine the award. Your student doesn’t have access to parental financial records. This is probably the only circumstance in which parents should be talking to school administration (other than pleasantries after concerts.)

  • Find out if there is a formal process for appeals. If not, prepare your own letter and documentation.

  • Get your numbers in order. It can be time-consuming, but you need to go through your records and produce statements for existing loans for your older children’s education, for medical debt, and for other extraordinary expenses that did not appear on your FAFSA or original financial aid applications. Be prepared to produce paper documentation for everything in your narrative.

  • Make a reasonable ask. This could be the most difficult part of your appeal, particularly if you feel that the entire cost is impossible to meet. But if the existing scholarship offer is, for example, $10,000, it is unlikely that a request for $40,000 will be granted. The point of an appeal is to make attendance possible, not to make it easy.

  • Be prepared to document other offers.  If your student has received scholarships from schools that are equally selective or more selective, it could help your request for an appeal. Not every school is interested in hearing about the offers of its competitors. But if your student has received an offer of substantial support highly regarded school it cannot hurt your case to let them know.

  • Ask the faculty to advocate. If your student has a good relationship with the studio teacher, she should ask her to advocate on her behalf.

  • Ignore everybody else. Some students (and some parents) brag about enormous scholarship offers, or repeat stories that may or may not be apocryphal. Regardless of the intent behind these stories, the effect is to make everyone else feel less valued. Focus on what your family needs to make it possible for your student to thrive in college.

In case you’re feeling discouraged at this point, here’s story for you: a couple of years ago, when my youngest daughter applied to theater programs she was thrilled to be accepted to a rare auditioned double-major at the school she believed was perfect for her. She was also accepted to other schools ranked by outside agencies as more selective, both academically and artistically. Her first-choice school offered no financial aid (even though our family had three students in college and a low EFC), and only a small merit scholarship, less than a third of the size of her other scholarship offers. The tuition for this school was higher than any that our four children had encountered. We knew that would not be possible for her to attend, and spent an anguished April helping her evaluating other options.

But meanwhile I prepared a comprehensive appeal, outlining our family’s education-related debt, which I hand-delivered to the financial aid office (probably not necessary, but it was important enough to my daughter that I made the 200-mile trip.) I met with a financial aid director—so that she would have a face to put with the letter, and would understand the depth of our sincerity. My daughter asked the faculty to advocate for her. And we produced scholarship offers from the other schools. At the end of April, my daughter’s appeal was granted and her merit scholarship tripled. It’s still below our family’s “need” as determined by FAFSA, but suddenly what was impossible became possible. Was it worth the hours of preparation and advocating? Two years later she’s thriving at that school—I think so.

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Click here for a reference page to all of Karen Rile's series: A Parents' Guide to Conservatory Auditions

From jean dubuisson
Posted on April 4, 2014 at 12:41 PM
Truly baffling from a European perspective. At least in my profession, people in America always seem to make much more money than Europeans, until you start taking into account all that they have to pay with these supposedly huge salaries!
From Karen Rile
Posted on April 4, 2014 at 1:11 PM
Yes, we get very bogged down financially with health care and education.
Posted on April 4, 2014 at 2:21 PM
This series is so helpful and illuminating. Thank you!

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