My son was just admitted off the waitlist at his top choice. He had already accepted an offer at another school with a $25,000 per-year merit scholarship. I know you've said before that financial aid decisions can be appealed, but we didn't apply for financial aid. We'd like to approach this school and ask if they'll match the merit aid the other school has offered (or if they can at least throw us some money). Can I appeal for more money even if I didn't apply for financial aid?
Congrats on your son's acceptance, even if it's something of a mixed blessing when the bills roll in! If your son didn't apply for need-based financial aid at the time that he applied to this college, then it's probably too late for him to apply for it now, although it can't hurt to ask. Your chances of getting good news will be best if your family's financial picture has changed significantly since the application deadline. For instance, has a parent lost a job or become disabled? Have you suffered a major uninsured loss or unanticipated medical expenses?
It is not too late, however, to ask for merit aid ... assuming that your son will attend a college that actually does award merit aid in the first place. Of course, at this point your chances aren't good, and if “The Dean" were a gambler, I'd bet against you. This school has probably already maxed out its merit aid budget. Moreover, college folks typically use merit money to attract their most sought-after applicants who might otherwise enroll elsewhere, and they are less likely to dole out extra dough to students who got in off the waitlist. (In fact, it's possible that one reason that your son went to the top of the waitlist was because he was coded as “No need.") Thus, this college really has little incentive to match the merit grant that the initial college had offered. Even so, give it a shot. Be persistent but polite. Your chances will be best if you can offer a specific reason why a merit grant will turn down some heat on the home front. Even if you aren't facing any of the dire straits named above, you might need a new transmission in your car or a roof on your house, and a few thousand bucks would give you a bit of breathing room.
And if it's too late for any sort of assistance for the coming fall, you should also ask if you can apply for need-based aid for your son's sophomore year, should you think you might qualify. Some colleges have a policy that requires families who don't ask for freshman aid to wait an additional year (until junior year) before they are eligible for need-based assistance.
In any case, there's no downside to contacting your son's new school right away and asking if there's any way to wangle a bit of financial assistance, whether it's via a late need-based aid application or a merit scholarship. Consider this appeal to be a long shot but still worth the old college try ... so to speak!
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