Colleges and Outside Scholarship Policy

Question: At her high school awards night, my daughter received about $10,000 thanks to many private scholarships and awards. The intent of these awards was to help pay her expenses. Her college's policy is to deduct these from her self-help first then from institutional scholarships. Any ideas on how to keep the money from reducing the grant?

Congratulations on your daughter's awards. It's quite an honor for her to receive so many accolades, but--as you have already surmised--the prizes may be longer on praise than they are on actual dough, once the dust settles.

When it comes to dealing with "outside scholarships," college policies are all over the map. Most schools will begin by deducting the award money from self-help (work study, loans), but then the prizes can start to eat into the good stuff ... grants.

As you probably know, all outside scholarships must be reported to your daughter's college, and there can be hell to pay (and $ penalties) if you stay mum. It sounds like you've already notified the school, so you've gotten some Brownie Points for your prompt disclosure. Now, the next step is to create a specific list of college-related expenses that you'd been hoping the prize money might cover. For instance, if your daughter needs a computer, printer, and scanner, these should go on the list. If her major requires atypically expensive books or supplies, then include them as well. If she expects to do an off-campus internship and must pay for public transportation or even a car, put the anticipated cost on the roster. Try to think of all extenuating circumstances that are applicable to your daughter's academic (or related) needs, but don't stretch the points too hard (e.g., "Summer ecology research program in Belize" would qualify; "Spring break in Daytona for much-needed R&R would not!).

If you tell financial aid officials that you have earmarked the award money for essential academic purposes, they may have some wiggle-room when it comes to paring down your grants. But one important rule of thumb to keep in mind this that, whenever you endeavor to bargain with finaid officers, it's important to always sound appreciative and never entitled.

Good luck with your negotiations. Let us know how you make out, and best wishes for a wonderful college career for your daughter,