When to Appeal a College Financial Award

By Lauren Wanko

For many New Jersey high school kids, college acceptance letters are in the mailbox, along with merit based financial awards or scholarships. Still for some students, there may not be enough zeros attached to the offer.

“Now that we’ve been doing this business for the past 10 years we’re finding that many of the misconceptions that are out there have kept going but the prices of college have gone so far up that parents and students are not even prepared for what it is that they’re running into,” said David Slater.

Many are not aware that they can appeal for a potentially larger financial award, say College Benefits Research Group co-founders Steven Sirot and Slater. They work with students and their families throughout the college planning process. Appeals can be done through a letter to the school, a phone conversation or a meeting.

“You want to make that appeal in person sometimes. You want to make it so that they realize you don’t just appeal to five or six schools, you’re appealing to one school, maybe two at most and when you’re doing it you’re doing it with a closing experience. You’re going to them and saying, ‘I really want to go to your school make it possible. This is what I need.’ And that’s something that a college will see,” Slater said.

Sirot insists it all starts with doing the homework — researching the schools and knowing where a student positions in a college’s typical applicant pool, along with the awards the school distributes. It’ll give students a sense of whether their scholarship is an appropriate one. It comes down to knowing what you’re appealing for. The financial advisor says schools base the awards on both the financial aid and admissions applications.

“So if you’re appealing it should be something that’s not contained in there. A special circumstance where God forbid a person lost their job right before they applied to school, they’re showing income from the prior year that may not be there going forward. And you want to try to bring the strongest appeal you could and usually that means bring them something current,” Sirot said.

Like a recent academic achievement that’s not on the application.

CBRG also recommends parents be mindful of when not to appeal an award. That’s because when you appeal, you’re asking the college to reassess the offer and the danger is the initial award may have been more than fair, and in rare cases they may come back with a lesser offer.

CBRG told client Michael Damato not to appeal the scholarship his son received. Danny’s now a freshman at Pace University.

“To our astonishment they offered my son a $17,000 a year merit scholarship, something that was completely unexpected,” Damato said.

The Wayne resident says in high school, his son was a late-bloomer academically.

“We thought we were going to have to pay sticker price no matter where we went. One of the most important things is to apply to the right schools, to understand what schools appreciated students like him,” Damato said.

He’s grateful his family sought out financial advice. Sen. Sandra Cunningham proposed a bill so high school students can be just as educated.

“It would be mandatory in their junior or senior year that they have a session with their counselor or someone that school assigns to talk to them about financial issues,” Cunningham said.

“It’s definitely needed for the students but for the parents as well. Nothing beats making sure you know what you’re getting into and you have a realistic plan to be able to handle it,” Sirot said.

CBRG says students who plan to appeal should start the process now.