college

Getting help from the college of your choice

Maximizing your chances for aid

It all starts with school selection. Large, well-established institutions generally have the most money to award. Smaller regional colleges, meanwhile, may be looking to roll out the red carpet to students who are desirable, such as those who would likely be in the top of the class.

Following the financial aid process rules are crucial to getting a good aid package. That means checking in with the school at the beginning of the process and hitting all deadlines. Besides the required Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, institutions may ask for a Profile form and/or their own financial aid form (often included with admissions materials) to be considered.

The earlier applications are in, the better.

The process doesn't end as freshman year begins. Applying for renewal of aid is mandatory.

Families often wonder about the possibility of negotiating for a better aid package. Unfortunately, with stringent rules about need, the bargaining game may well be over before it starts.

Yet, if a student is awarded a much better package from one school, contacting a second school may be beneficial. And make sure the financial aid office is aware of any unusual circumstances the first school has taken into account.

Still, a survey of 1,492 colleges by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the College Board found that only 1 percent of public colleges and 2 percent of private colleges frequently or always adjust financial aid packages to reflect another college's offer. In response to a family's stated inability to pay, 5 percent of public colleges and 10 percent of private institutions do adjust financial aid packages after a review.

As for the concept of two schools bidding against each other to woo a top student, it's more than unlikely, experts say. Yet a few schools have been known to be open about their practices of suggesting that students submit any competing offers for review.

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