Winning the Financial Aid Lottery

Financial aid is an important part of paying for college. Find tips on getting everything you need from Financial aid.

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Winning the Financial Aid Lottery

It used to be that you could try for that reach school and if you got in, you didn't have to worry because everybody who got in, who needed money, got money. Today, however, as colleges are asked to fund more and more of their own operations with less and less assistance from the government, foundations, and families, they are increasingly reluctant to part with their money to enroll students who don't raise their academic profile.
-The Real Deal on Financial Aid," Muhlenberg College Office of Admissions

Sometimes, a school wants a hot prospect so badly that it will twist its financial aid rules into a pretzel. That's got to be what happened when an elite West Coast school reeled in an exceptional student who just happened to be sitting on a $500,000 trust fund. A financial aid administrator could have run the numbers any way he wanted, but this teenager still wouldn't have qualified for need-based aid. But surprise, surprise, the private university, ignoring the trust fund, awarded him a yearly $30,000 aid package.

I mention this story not to make you more cynical about the financial aid process, but to alert you to one of the many ways that you can boost your chances of receiving more than crumbs from your favorite school. Whether you are a trust fund baby or far from it, here's what you need to do:

Always apply for financial aid. The best way to sabotage your chances for assistance is to assume that applying for need-based aid is pointless. Even families with six-figure incomes can qualify for a helping hand from more expensive schools. If you discover that your income far exceeds the income ceiling, you should still complete the forms because it could help your child secure a spot in the next freshman class.

This will sound crass, but some schools could be far more interested in your child after taking a peek at your finances. At some schools, an excellent candidate from a wealthy family will enjoy a better chance of being admitted over a promising student whose dad is on disability and whose mom works as a cashier. You may rightly believe that favoring an affluent student over a poor one is appalling, but plenty of schools make these sorts of decisions.

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