How to lobby for more financial aid

Write effective proposals

"I write a one-page letter, two or three paragraphs maximum, and have the student sign it," says Aresty. "The letter usually starts out with a phrase like, 'This university has a proud tradition of meeting 100 percent of student need and unfortunately I've been left out in the cold. ...' Then I ask for an increase in this area or that."

If students can't find a specific area where they need more aid, they could try a last-ditch tactic of pitting one school's aid package against another, says Pesotski. But don't hold your breath. While some schools do re-evaluate aid awards for academically and athletically outstanding students based on offers from other institutions, many dismiss these appeals altogether.

"We don't run around matching other institutions' awards, but if a highly sought-after student says 'X, Y and Z universities gave me so much money. Can you match that?' We'll look to see if there's an actual cost differential," he says. "Before we hand out more money, we need to make sure that the offers are based on comparing apples to apples."

Ask nicely, be timely

Once students know why they need more aid, the next step is to ask for it soon. While Pell grants and Stafford loans are available year-round, other awards, such as the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, work-study positions and certain school-sponsored awards, are doled out on a first-come, first-served  basis.

"We don't consider any (aid appeal) too late, but we have limited resources, and students should let us know there's a problem as quickly as possible," says Mary Ellen Duffy, director of financial aid at Albright College in Reading, Pa. "We request that all families looking for more aid put their requests in writing. (Students) should also be prepared to verify the reason they're asking for a bigger award."

First, Duffy says, students should start the appeals process by contacting their school's aid office and asking for any forms required for a financial aid appeal or professional judgment. In addition to a letter outlining why they need more money, students should also have documentation such as copies of medical bills or proof of income reduction on hand in case the aid office asks to see it. The time it takes to process appeals varies from one school to another. However, Aresty advises students to follow up with a short letter if they haven't heard back within a few weeks and to end the deal with a handwritten thank you card regardless of the appeal's outcome.

Investigate other options

Should an aid appeal end in rejection, other options exist, such as awards offered through other college departments, private scholarships with later deadlines and alternative aid programs like tuition discounts, says Anissa Agne, director of student financial aid for the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Fla.

"A student can look for scholarships offered by their dean's office, academic major or concentration, student life organizations and the university's (fundraising) foundation," she says.

Agne also advises students to stay in touch with their financial aid office in case last minute awards become available. This occurs when other students decide to attend other schools or if they don't accept work-study positions.

"A lot of schools have a wait list for things like work-study, so keep in contact with your school's (aid office)," she says. "It's always worthwhile to let them know you're interested in additional funding."

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