THE BLOG
02/12/2014 04:42 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2014

My Personal Experience on How to Save Tens of Thousands of Dollars on College Tuition

Bradford Pine

My daughter Abby applied to college this year and as the acceptance letters start coming in, we're getting to the stage of choosing a school. Of course, we're thinking about important factors like education, quality of life and location; however, like most parents, we also have to consider cost.

Our interest in getting the best financial support possible from the best school for Abby helped me discover a way of potentially lowering college tuition by a significant amount. I'm passionate about educating people on these topics, so I'm excited to share my personal experience with you. Read on -- it could save you tens of thousands of dollars!

Our Story

After we narrowed the list of potential schools down to a handful of favorites, we began to look seriously at the costs of each one. We were grateful that Abby was awarded a fairly large merit scholarship from two universities, so now, I had a benchmark. I decided to contact the admissions departments of the other universities to find out if they would award additional merit money, or, for the ones that didn't offer anything, if they would consider doing so.

I discovered that each school is totally different. One university very nicely told me that they don't adjust their merit scholarship offers. A second, who had awarded Abby a $7,000 scholarship, walked me through their very simple appeals process, in which you can ask to be reconsidered for a higher award (as of right now we are waiting to hear back from them). Another school, which didn't send an offer, explained that because of a change in policy, they were only sending out acceptance letters now. If Abby was awarded a merit scholarship, we'd find out in a couple of weeks, and the advisor hinted that we should call back in March if she didn't receive an award in the first round.

Finally, a fourth phone call led me to an admissions director's voicemail, which suggested sending an email. So, I sent an email explaining that this university was one of our top choices, but that we were looking carefully at cost and had been offered more generous awards from other schools.

I never could have guessed what would happen next.

On the same day, I received a reply saying that they had reviewed the application again... and would now like to offer Abby a $14,000 annual merit scholarship, as long as she maintained a 3.0 GPA.

We were very happy, to say the least: From one email, we could potentially save $56,000 in tuition over the course of Abby's education, or 25 percent in tuition and living expenses. This is financial planning at its best -- though of course, keeping in perspective the high cost of college these days.

The Lesson: Don't Be Afraid To Ask!

Generally speaking, the best way to receive a generous merit scholarship award is through scholastic achievements. This usually means that your child is in the upper percentiles of his or her class, maintains a high GPA and has strong ACT or SAT scores. The quality of the school also matters -- if you applied to an Ivy League, your merit awards might look very different than they would if you applied to a third-tier school. Every university is different and has its own internal policies in awarding scholarships.

However, don't be the judge and jury on whether your child will be able to receive a merit scholarship! You should always try: Universities look very hard at their overall ranking and have every reason to attract students who will make them look good.

To put it another way, it was recently said to me, "Before you are accepted, you want them; after you're accepted, they want you." In other words, don't be afraid to ask! You just might find that a university will do an awful lot to get your child into their freshman class.

So, once you've been accepted and you're in the process of selecting a school for your child, send an email or make a phone call to ask about additional awards: You could get more -- a lot more -- than what was initially offered.

How Do You Do It?

Who do you contact? I just looked at the offer letter and tried to reach the person who signed it. You can also go to Collegeboard and look up the admissions directors at the different universities you've applied to. In some cases, I was able to speak directly with this person, and in others I was transferred to an admissions counselor or other advisor who handles recruitment in our area.

I feel it's important to emphasize that every single person I spoke with in this process was incredibly gracious and willing to help -- so don't get deterred by thinking you're doing something wrong! Admissions departments are equipped and ready to handle these types of questions and seem to always be staffed by genuinely nice people who are looking to make the process easier.

Spread The Word

I wanted to share this story because I was amazed by how powerful a few phone calls (and one email) could be for our financial planning over the coming years. I would love for more people to know about this, and I hope you can benefit from my experience. If you found this article to be helpful and feel others can benefit too, feel free to pass it along.

Please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like to hear more about how I went about this. I'd also love to hear about any success stories!

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