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Appeal (Negotiation) Letters Can Save You Thousands on Your Student's College Education

What's the difference between a 'just okay' financial aid award and a 'great' financial aid award? One that gives your student…

  1. 100% or more of your financial need met or exceeded.
  2. More free money and fewer loans.

Take a Reasonable Request and Turn It Into Pure Gold

With today's college cost environment, many parents are having a difficult time sending their children to the colleges they want to attend the most.

What parents and students need today is an edge…and what I'm about to share with you is 'the edge' that will benefit you more than any single thing you could do to make college more affordable.

It seems everyone has a special situation where an argument could be made to get an increase in financial aid money. Your child may deserve much more than they were awarded, but with so many students competing for the same limited pool of money, it can be extremely hard to capture a bigger slice of the pie.

One very powerful way to reduce out of pocket costs and minimize the ever increasing mountain of debt that families are taking on, is to write a well constructed negotiation letter that lowers your out of pocket costs. Actually, colleges don't negotiate with families for more aid, but they are willing to listen to an appeal or what amounts to a 'reasonable request'. We'll be using the word "appeal" in place of "negotiation".

If you're going to write your own appeal, you have a lot of planning to do. The boilerplate letters you find in financial aid books at the book store or even on the Internet won't do. The financial aid officers have lots of them in their files already (or should I say circular file?).

What's required are individually tailored letters that accurately represent your family's personal circumstances and explain exactly why the college should award your child more money.

Plan on creating a deliberate, well thought out plan of attack. Getting more free money isn't easy and it may take a few tries. Several months may go by and perhaps as many as three letters will need to be written. At this time of year, chances are you will have to write an appeal in short order because of the deadlines imposed by the college or university. However, writing an effective letter does take time, so don't rush it. You may have to write a few drafts to get your point across efficiently and succinctly. Financial aid administrators acknowledge that a well-written letter can take at least three hours or more to write. Based on my personal experience this is absolutely true, but there is a lot more to it than that.

Knowing what questions to ask first, and then answering them with logical and understandable explanations can increase your aid package by as much as $18,300 for a single year of college! A few of our clients even received a tad more than that. What you want is a letter that presents your case in a crystal clear fashion.

Costs Won't Stop Going Up for at Least Six More Years

One major reason tuitions will keep going up is the number of college applications will increase for the nex six years. Applications for the 2004-05 school year were the highest in history! That means colleges don't have an incentive to put the brakes on rising costs. The recent threat by Congress to punish schools that increase tuition by double the inflation rate two years running was recently quashed by college lobbyists.

The good news is that the folks in the financial aid offices are people, just like you. Many have children who are also going off to college. Keep in mind that financial aid directors and their staff don't make any more money than you or I and they have the same expenses associated with living. In other words, don't think that a financial aid director will underwrite an extravagant lifestyle-- so if you have a lot of consumer debt, they aren't likely to bail you out just because you were trying to keep up with the Jones's. However, if you have incurred some serious debt for other legitimate reasons, you might be able to persuade them to reevaluate your case.

You have to put yourself in their position to appreciate their side of the story. They hear so many phony hard luck stories they can't help but tune them out. Imagine that every year you had parents yelling and threatening you, even demanding that they ante up or their kid will go to another school. Who wouldn't be on the defensive? You just have to figure out a way to break through the clutter to have your voice heard.

Remember musical chairs? It was lots of fun if you weren't the one left without a chair to sit on when the music stopped. What you have to do is make sure you're one of the few who gets a chair before the money runs out.

It's too bad that most of what you'll find on the Internet about negotiating with colleges talks about special circumstances and forms. It's academic in nature and you will not learn how to write an effective letter of appeal. You don't find the critical 'how to' information that you need to get the money. I'm afraid the only source of information on how to negotiate or appeal with the college is going to come from the financial aid people and they aren't talking.

The Majority of Parents Don't Have Their Request Granted

There's a lot of lip service these days about appealing financial aid decisions, but few really know how to do it well.

Most people, including professionals, have a terrible time stringing two coherent sentences together. They don't know how to take an idea and write a succinct letter that is powerful enough to make a compelling and convincing case.

Some moms and dads simply are not capable of writing a letter like this. They feel ashamed because it seems like begging. Even if they were willing to swallow their pride and write the appeal, their subjectivity causes them to become overly emotional, and the message is lost.

The majority of letters I've read sound too needy, too desperate, too pushy, too demanding, or too unreasonable-- and most of them end up in the trash. What a waste of valuable time and energy and, yes, money!

Ask anybody who writes with any regularity if they like to write. You might be surprised by their answer. Writing is hard labor. Your shoulders burn, your back aches and you have no idea if what you're writing will get you results or not. To quote the late pulp fiction writer Fredric Brown, "I hate to write, but loved having written."

Until now, the only choice a family had was to fill out various forms, write in their circumstances on a separate sheet of paper, make a couple of phone calls, wait, and hope for the best. They might even visit the financial aid director. Sometimes the family would get a few dollars thrown at them just so they would leave. Are you a dog begging for a bone? No! You are a parent who wants what's best for your child. How is it your fault that college costs are this high? Even if you had saved since your kids were little, you wouldn't have been able to keep up.

You Have to Think Like a Financial Aid Administrator

It's hard to write a persuasive appeal letter. Some of my earlier ones didn't always get the results that they do now. But being persuasive isn't enough. You have to also anticipate what the financial aid administrator will think as they read the letter.

To achieve the best results, we've engaged several financial aid administrators from a variety of selective colleges and universities. These professionals have agreed to serve as our consultants and anonymously review each appeal. Their role is to anticipate the kind of questions their peers would ask, recommend strategies, and edit the letter itself. The end result is a personalized appeal letter with at least a 90% chance of winning a lot more financial aid.

It's Like Having a Hired Gun to Make a Case For You

Imagine you're a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. You're seeking damages of $250,000. You have no lawyer, and your only legal experience is having watched "The Peoples Court" a couple of times on TV. On the other side of the aisle, the defendant has Johnny Cochran and F. Lee Bailey. Do you honestly think you would have half a chance?

Even if the truth is on your side, it still would be an uphill battle, and odds are excellent that you will lose. Trial lawyers are trained to know how to trip you up and ask questions you've never thought of. The next thing you know…you're paying the defendant's legal fees.

The Hard Part Has Already Been Done For You

Years ago, some marketing company told me to negotiate with the colleges for more money. What did I know about negotiating with a veteran financial aid officer, when I couldn't even convince my five-year-old daughter to eat her peas and carrots!

But, I took the advice to heart. I found out that some colleges have their own forms for a family's special circumstances. For instance, Section P of the CSS/PROFILE® is specifically used for this purpose.

What I also discovered is that just as an insurance company knows a certain percentage of its policyholders will give up after their claim is denied, colleges will use several, sometimes complicated, forms to discourage parents from asking for more money. I can't say that I blame them. It keeps down frivolous requests.

Learning how to get more money from colleges, especially the more selective colleges and universities, took eight years to learn. In that time I learned how to get the letters delivered to the right person, read by the right person, and acted on by the right person. If a committee was involved, I helped my clients find out who the members were. Finally, I learned that persistence is a major ingredient to get my client's children the money that they deserved.

Three Real Life Examples of What is Possible

  1. Mrs. T's daughter, Kimberly, was admitted to a selective private college and received no financial aid. Mrs. T took the advice of a well-meaning neighbor who told her not to bother completing the forms because she herself didn't qualify.

    Given the larger than average income of the parents and that Kimberly had a sizable asset given to her by her long deceased father, her neighbor thought she was doing the right thing by telling her friend not to bother with the forms.

    But if you want to receive aid you must complete the forms and ask, even if you think you won't get anything. You may not get aid, but you certainly won't if you don't apply.

    In Mrs. T's case she would have gotten little in the way of aid anyway. But Mrs. T had a big problem. Just because her income put her out of the running, she still couldn't afford the college her daughter wanted to go to. She would have to use all of the money Kimberly's dad left her and still it wasn't going to be enough.

    Mrs. T came to my attention in June of Kimberly's senior year in high school. Then it took me three months to help her overcome the advice of her financial advisor (read salesman) and her friend and finally accept my help. When I had finally earned her trust, I was able to help her get the forms filed that fall. Better late than never.

    Beginning in November, a series of three appeal letters were written to the financial aid administrator. By the end of January in Kimberly's freshman year, she was finally awarded $10,600! Most of it in gift aid. A few weeks later, for her sophomore year, she was awarded $16,200 in aid, and again, it was mostly gift aid.

    Remember Kimberly's inheritance? It amounted to $94,000 and had been invested in her name. That's a financial aid killer if there ever was one. We convinced the college to remove those assets from the financial aid formula entirely. Case closed.

  2. Dylan was already in his sophomore year in college with a C average. After listening to the father tell me his story for a couple of hours, I wrote just one letter. That was all it took. He received $16,000 in additional financial aid for his upcoming junior year!

    The mom was a teacher and world-class spend-o-holic, and the dad a former CPA who delivered pizzas at night to support the family. I say former, because his wife put him into federal bankruptcy with her spending habits. The father was speechless when he received the revised award. Even I was blown away!

    Note: Colleges do not normally subsidize a family's extravagant lifestyle. But we helped them do just that.

  3. Recently I received a call from a mom I'd been working with for a year and a half. Her daughter, Samantha, is a senior at a prestigious university in the Chicago area. It was a situation where the parents had divorced. Both parents presented conflicting information, (read: lied to the financial aid staff) thus the student received nothing. After reviewing all of their documents and writing three appeals the financial aid administrator personally called the mother to tell her that the student finally was awarded a total of $19,300 in need-based funds!
Coincidences? Each story is different, yet the results are the same. The student gets more money from the college and less is taken from the parent's pockets.

I Am a Successful Certified College Planning Specialist

Since I began my college funding practice in 1996, parents would often come to me for help with their children's financial aid packages. They would ask, "Is it fair? Should we have gotten more?" Isn't that what you're asking yourself right now?

Sometimes the request was valid and I did what I could. That meant sitting down and writing letters on their behalf. I have literally spent thousands of hours writing hundreds of appeal letters so I could save parents money. As a busy parent, I don't think I would have learned to do this on my own if I didn't have to. And now, you don't have to either.

Not Every Case Will Qualify For An Appeal

Now, before I detail the fee for the appeals service, you must understand that not every situation will qualify for an appeal. For a small evaluation fee, I will appraise your specific circumstances to see if I believe that I can successfully appeal your case. If I can create a winning appeal strategy, I will contact you to discuss what can be done.

First, you will need to complete the online Appeals Questionnaire, for which we charge a non-refundable evaluation fee of $250.00, via PayPal. Once your questionnaire is submitted, it will be reviewed by me personally. If, in my considered opinion, you have a winnable case, I will share the information with one of our financial aid directors. If he or she also agrees that you have a case, and we believe you will receive at least $4,000 in additional need-based or merit-aid funds, the evaluation fee will be applied towards your final appeals fee.

These funds may be in the form of scholarships or grants from the college or state, and subsidized loans, such Perkins loans or Federal Work Study BUT never unsubsidized loans, PLUS loans, or any other financial aid that is not need or merit based. IMPORTANT: PLUS loans and Alternative loans, like GATE or Sallie Mae Signature loans, do not count towards aid. Neither do 'outside scholarships'.

The amount of time required to prepare an appeal varies, but generally takes six to eight hours of my time. Also, the process itself can take up to three or more letters over a three to sixth month period. The appeals fee is $550-- and this includes the $250 evaluation fee.

Unlike other comprehensive financial aid services you will find on the Internet, our expertise is in helping families through the difficulty of filing forms and keeping track of what additional forms or tax return is due for each school, and evaluating financial aid offers, as well as writing appeal letters.

And although we do offer other time saving services to our clients, working with your student's college for more aid is our focus. And if you can find a better service that will spend as much one-on-one time as necessary to win your case for less, then by all means, you should go with them.

In the past, to save myself time, I used the services many of these financial aid companies provide. I have also either worked as a consultant for many of these service providers, or was associated with them in other areas of my profession, or intimately knew the principals involved in these financial aid companies. However, after too many critical mistakes (when it comes to your student or your money, are there any other kind?) I took it upon myself to do the job my clients hired me to do.

I'm not saying that some of these companies don't provide valuable services. Some do. Actually, one does an excellent job. But none are truly serious about providing an outstanding appeals service. They can't. It's just too cost prohibitive. When it comes to writing a highly personalized and successful appeal letter, none of them have our level of expertise and none of them have the business model that allows them to go the extra mile. That's the difference. As a result... We win! We win! We win! Vanderbilt, Carnegie Mellon, Washington, Allegheny, Stanford, Muhlenberg, Gettysburg, Wesleyan, American, Bucknell, Boston University, and Swarthmore represent only a small handful of private colleges and universities that have helped our clients from the letters we have written on their behalf.

Currently, we have several working financial aid administrators to assist us in developing your case and editing your letter. To protect your privacy, and to prevent any conflict of interest, they will never see your name and they never know the names of the colleges, either. You are 100% completely anonymous.

Is this cheating? The Wall Street Journal doesn't think so. They have endorsed an online essay service that uses Harvard grads to help rewrite their essays for a fee with no guarantee that what they rewrite for your student will get them into college.

Why am I doing this? Allow me to explain. I believe, now more than ever, a service like this is vitally needed. Private colleges have priced themselves out of the reach of the middle class. Now, I know that most parents don't have to pay the full cost of attendance at the private schools. But, the portion that parents are expected to pay is literally becoming out of reach for millions of parents. As a parent with one student in law school, another in college, and one in eighth grade, I know how difficult it is to send your kids to college.

I Want to Make Sure You Know Exactly What You Get For Your $750

Your case will be reviewed by a financial aid director and if necessary you will have up to three letters (or more, if needed) written on your behalf by a professional college negotiator, including a final edit by me, Stuart P. Siegel, a Certified College Planning Specialist.

Plus, you will receive all the one-on-one assistance you need when dealing with the financial aid department at your student's PRIVATE college or university!

Evaluating Your Case

Not every case will qualify for an appeal that will win at least $4,000 in additional aid. We can only accept cases where we believe that we have at least a 90% chance of winning. Even if you're not sure if you'd qualify, you should let us decide if you have a winnable case.

  1. Complete the Appeals Questionnaire.

  2. You Will be assessed a one-time, non-refundable evaluation fee of $250.00 that can be credited towards the appeals fee.

  3. We will evaluate your information and then contact you with our findings.
Should we feel that an appeal is in order, and you agree to proceed with a formal appeal, you will be asked to furnish the remainder of the appeals fee. The risk you face by not taking advantage of our service is having to pay potentially tens of thousands more for college than you would have to.

Stuart P. Siegel, CCPS

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