When you first receive your financial aid award letter, you'd be forgiven for thinking that amount is the number you'll use to determine your best option, school-wise. Not quite. You could get a better offer. Here’s how....
Ask questions of each prospective school to get offer details.
Until you decipher what the offer truly is, you won't know whether you can get a better one. During the first round of calls to financial aid offices, get descriptions for any terms you don’t understand. For instance, 'self-help' is a complicated term. It could mean the income a student is expected to earn, yet it is separate from work study.
Also, think about how work study fits in to the equation. You might qualify for minimum wage work study--but you might get a better offer from an off-campus job. You may or may not want to consider this as part of your overall package when deciding among colleges.
If your finances change, ask for your financial aid award package to be reevaluated.
Sadly, It's not uncommon to hear of families losing jobs, or having to do more with less. The good news, however, is that aid packages can be reevaluated when financial situations change. Fill out the Special Circumstances form--available from any financial aid office--to update financial aid information. They may also be able to hook you up with more resources, such as private scholarships that you didn't qualify for previously when you had less financial need.
Ask schools for more money.
There are two reasons you might get more cash merely by calling up schools. First, schools compete for good students. Second, you might not have applied for every potential scholarship. Schools may have funds set aside from their own scholarship and grant money to help attract good students who are considering other options. You might qualify for some of this money, especially if you mention another school has given you a better offer. One other way you might get more money is if you fail to apply for a relevant scholarship. Call as early as possible so you don’t miss any scholarship deadlines.
Financial aid award letters, for a variety of reasons, are just the beginning. It never hurts to call a financial aid office to try and get a better financial aid package. Always know why you’re calling before you connect: maybe your income has dropped and you need to be reevaluated, or you just want to know about potential additional scholarships. Just ask! There may very well be more money available to you than you know.