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Wheelin' and Dealin' for College Cash

Before you refuse a college's offer due to lack of funds, think about this: You may be able to do a little wheelin' and dealin' of your own for a better financial aid package. Read on...

If you applied for aid on time, believe you have solid reasons why you need and deserve more money for school (such as one of your parents lost their job or is retired, they're separated, or you take special medicine that is expensive), and you can back it up with documentation, you should definitely give it a shot, says Dr. Herm Davis, co-author of College Financial Aid For Dummies (IDG Books, 1999). However, says Davis, who also serves as director of The National Scholarship Foundation, be mindful of the type of school to which you're appealing. According to Davis, certain schools do not negotiate financial aid.

"Those that say 'take it or leave it' tend to be elite institutions. These selective schools take a rigid stance because they can," he adds. "Esteemed institutions enjoy a surplus of academically qualified applicants whose parents are able to pay cash without a quibble." When in doubt about a school's negotiation policy, Davis suggests anonymously calling the financial aid office to ask if award appeals are accepted.

If so, your next step is to accept the money you've been offered. "Always accept the whole award package," advises Davis, who helped 70 percent of the 200 students he worked with last year win their appeals. "If you turn down a loan or a work-study job, how can you appeal for more money?" In other words, even though you didn't get all that you needed, take what the school is promising to give you, and ask for more later.

Once you've accepted the award, it's time to begin the "get more aid" process. Timing is everything, says Davis. That means you should submit an appeals letter within two weeks of receiving your financial aid package. "Do it before all the money is gone," he says. "Appeal in the spring when colleges are making financial aid decisions, or after the refund period -- if some students don't show up, the school can redistribute the money."

Of course, Davis urges you not to go overboard with your request for additional funds. "Try to appeal for something reasonable," he says. "It's better to appeal for a small amount and get something, than for a big amount and get zilch." He recommends not exceeding a $4,000 request.

In addition, you'll want your appeal letter to be short and to the point. It should state the problem, what you want from the financial aid office, and how much. You should also enclose any paperwork that validates your claims, including your FAFSA, CSS/Financial Aid Profile form (if the school requires it), and the institutional application. One more thing... don't go into the office relying on just your emotions to get more money.

Stick to the facts, says Davis. If you play the negotiation game right, those few extra bucks could be yours.