Dear Estelle. My son has been accepted to two wonderful liberal arts college. One has offered him a larger merit scholarship than the other, a difference of more than $5,000. In addition, the one that offered less also costs considerably more and is actually the one he would prefer to attend. I was wondering whether it is normal practice to go back to the financial aid people and ask for more merit money?
RonZ, Littleton, CO
This is an excellent question and one that will crop up frequently this month of April when students are forced to come to a decision regarding their school choice by May 1. Unfortunately, money frequently becomes the determiner. My suggestion to this dilemma would be to ask. Asking never hurts. However, schools frequently want to know what the other school is offering and might even request proof of the offer prior to granting additional monies. Frequently a more selective school will give less money knowing students will jump through hurdles wanting to get accepted. A less selective school will give more merit aid hoping to attract the student who all things being equal would take the more selective acceptance. What does your son have to lose? Really nothing. Several options: Revisit the school of choice, if possible, with aid letters in hand and speak directly to the financial aid officer stating “X” school is truly your 1st choice. Can they make it possible for him to attend? Contact the school by mail or phone, if visiting is impossible. Ultimately, all of you need to ask yourselves two questions: 1) How strong are his feelings about the two colleges? Are they close enough so he’d be happy at either place or 2) what is your financial situation? Can you afford either one? Be frank about laying out these options to your son and make him an equal participant in the decision-making. The financial aid officer might say “No.”