Gaining acceptance to your top choice school can be one of the most exciting, rewarding moments of your high school career.

 

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. An unfavorable financial aid decision doesn’t just dampen the joy of being accepted; it can make attending the school of your dreams seem like an impossibility. But insufficient financial aid doesn’t need to be a death knell for your dreams. In this blog post, we’ll talk about the options available to students who can’t afford their top choice school.

 

Appeal or Leverage Your Financial Aid Decision

 

Contrary to what you may believe, your financial aid decision is by no means final. An initial award is simply the amount your college believes you can pay based on the financial information they have access to. Though paperwork like the FAFSA or the CSS Profile might seem impossibly long and complex, they’re still not always sufficient to demonstrate all the intricacies of a family’s financial situation.

 

If a parent or guardian has recently lost their job, a family member has passed away or requires significant medical care, or your family’s financial situation is otherwise complex, you can appeal your financial aid decision. Call your school’s office of financial aid and speak to them about the appeals process. Be prepared to provide documents such as a parent’s letter of termination.

 

Alternately, if you’ve been admitted to a peer institution that provided a more generous aid package, colleges will usually meet the peer school’s aid. For more advice and information on appealing or leveraging financial aid decisions, look here!

 

Reach Out to a Financial Aid Officer

 

Having an understanding of why you’re being given or denied aid can allow you to make an informed decision about the future. For example, let’s say you’re given $10,000 in financial aid your first semester because you’re the only child in your family attending college. However, next year, your younger sister is starting college, and she has her eyes set on a costly private school. If your family will have to pay thousands more in tuition annually, your financial aid award will likely be increased to reflect this change.

 

By reaching out to a financial aid officer, you can learn how the award committee came to their decision, and if there are any factors that will significantly change your family’s ability to pay in the coming years, a financial aid officer can help you determine how that change will affect your aid. Even if you can’t pay $50,000 for tuition every year, you may be able to pay that much your first year if you’re assured that you’ll be expected to pay much less in subsequent years. You can also experiment with your school’s financial aid calculator, if they have one, to get an idea of potential aid in future years.

 

Financial aid officers can also inform you about opportunities to make money on campus, including work-study or other on-campus jobs, financing options, and the process of taking out student loans. The financial aid office is a one-stop shop for all the questions and advice you’ll need – be sure to take advantage of it!

 

Take a Gap Year

 

Though the idea of waiting a full year to go off to college may not seem immediately appealing, there are myriad benefits to taking a gap year. If finances are an issue, you can take the year to work, save up money, and start college the following fall. It’s a great time to get work experience, especially if you didn’t have time for or didn’t want a job in high school, and can be a refreshing break from the non-stop academics that have characterized your years since preschool.

 

In addition, if you know your financial circumstances will change in the future in a way that will significantly alter your family’s financial aid, you can take a gap year with the hope that your financial aid package will be more generous the next year. For example, if one or both of your parents have plans to retire, waiting until they do so to start school may help you secure a larger financial aid award.

 

Find Ways to Economize

 

Oftentimes, the total cost of attendance as it is calculated by colleges includes not only tuition, room, and board, but other expenses as well. Travel, textbooks, health care, etc. may all be included in the estimated cost of attendance, and finding ways to save money in these areas can significantly lower your costs. If you live relatively close to the school in question, consider taking a bus or train for visits home rather than a plane. Rent textbooks, or buy them secondhand, rather than making a trip to the exorbitantly expensive bookstore each time you’re assigned a new book.

 

You can save beyond these miscellaneous costs, too; costs of attendance are usually calculated with on-campus housing and meal plans. While many schools require first-years to live on campus and sign up for a meal plan, upperclassmen are usually free to live off campus and sign up for as large or small a meal plan as they’d like. Living off campus with a few roommates (or even at home, if you’re located nearby) and cooking for yourself is a great way to cut costs.

 

Don’t Give Up and Be Open-Minded

 

If your first financial aid appeal is denied, apply again! If you’re not selected the first 5 scholarships you apply to, apply to 5 more! If you want to make your dream of attending your top-choice school a reality, it will require time, effort, and above all, perseverance. You should constantly be on the lookout for scholarship or grant opportunities; these come around more than you might think, and applying to as many as you can maximizes your chances at winning at least a few.

 

There are several organizationsthat will pay some or all of your tuition in exchange for a term of service after graduation, such as the military or Americorps. Even if you don’t think any of these programs would be right for you, there’s no harm in doing some research. For example, ROTC scholarships, which require students to serve in the military after graduation, by no means require you to serve on the front lines in active combat. You can get scholarships to work as a doctor, dentist, engineer, or lawyer for the military, which are more conventional career choices but still boast the excellent benefits working in the military offers.

 

In addition, it’s important to understand that if attending your dream school places a strain on your family’s budget, you may have to make some compromises to bring your dream to fruition. Try not to be frustrated if you need to work the summer before starting school while your friends relax, or if your internship options are limited because you can’t afford to take an unpaid or low-paid position.

 

We at Admissions Hero are familiar with every aspect of the college admissions process, and that includes the not-so-fun parts too. We know how difficult it can be to have done everything right in high school and seen your options limited not by a lack of ability or accomplishment, but because of insufficient financial aid. Hopefully, if you follow all the tips we’ve provided here, you’ll be at least a few steps closer to realizing your ambitions.

 

Unfortunately, if attending your dream school really does not seem to be a financial possibility, you may be faced with a difficult choice. Deciding to attend a community college or another four-year college instead of your dream school is not easy, but it may ultimately be the smartest decision. You could end up falling in love with the school you once considered a second-choice. If your heart is absolutely set on your top choice, there’s always the option of transferring after 1 or 2 years if your financial circumstances change or if you’ve saved money at a community college.
Above all, we encourage you not to lose hope, disheartening as the process may be. We know it’s cliche – and we know saying it’s cliche is cliche – but everything happens for a reason. Chances are, if you’re talented and driven enough to be accepted to your top school, you’ll achieve success no matter where you end up.

Anamaria Lopez

Anamaria Lopez

Managing Editor at CollegeVine Blog
Anamaria is an Economics major at Columbia University who's passionate about sharing her knowledge of admissions with students facing the applications process. When she's not writing for the CollegeVine blog, she's studying Russian literature and testing the limits of how much coffee one single person can consume in a day.
Anamaria Lopez