Example - College Ed Xpress monthly e-newsletter.

Do you have children that are college-bound high school juniors or seniors?

If so, you'll want to subscribe to the highly-acclaimed, monthly e-newsletter: College Ed Xpress

Here is why:

Each month College Ed Xpress delivers relevant, actionable and concise information, specifically for parents of high school seniors and juniors.

Virtually all college literature on the topics of college admissions and financial aid are targeted to the student; leaving the parents - who generally paying most of the bills - stumbling in the dark.

College Ed Xpress is perfect for families whether they are just beginning or are in the midst of the complex, confusing, time consuming and stress-inducing admissions and financial aid process.

College Ed Xpress won't overwhelm you with irrelevant information. It delivers the actionable information that you need to know, when you need to know it; not too soon and not too late!


Date: March, 2023

Dear Parent,

As the scholarships and financial aid award letters arrive you're going to want to know what to do with them. You'll be asking questions such as, "Should I accept the award or should I wait? And if I do accept, will I be able to ask the college for more money?"

The answer is, Yes! Accept everything. You aren't forfeiting your right to ask for more money later. Nothing is official until the deposit has been sent and... maybe not even then.

Parents reviewing their finances to pay for college

Award letters can be very confusing and they don't all follow the same format. Some don't tell you how much you will actually pay. Some may include loans that you don't want. Hopefully, the letters will include all the costs associated with attending that college, including books, personal living and travel expenses. It's also the sign of a good college if they include their budget figures as in the example below.

The most helpful award letters will be divided into three sections. Below is a representative example. In this example the student is eligible for need-based aid at a private university:

Financial Aid Award: Fall Spring Total
Faculty Scholarship 8,000 8,000 12,000
Alumni Grant 4,750 4,750 9,500
Fed Work-Study Program 1,000 1,000 2,000
Fed Direct Sub Stafford Loan 1,750 1,750 3,500
Fed Direct Unsub Stafford Loan 1,000 1,000 2,000
---------- ---------- ----------
Total Aid: $16,500 $16,500 $33,000
Expenses: Expected Family Contribution:
Tuition & Fees 42,289 Student EFC 1,875
Room & Board 12,968 Parent EFC 22,116
Books and Supplies* 1,100 (calculated by the FAFSA)
Personal Expenses* 3,035
Travel Allowance* 1,200
---------- ----------
Cost of Attendance (COA): $60,592 Total EFC: $23,991
Financial Need (COA - EFC): $36,601
*Indirect costs are not always included, but should be.

The FAFSA calculates your Expected Family Contribution or EFC (as shown on your SAR), which is the starting amount that colleges assume that you will be paying out of pocket. When colleges create a financial aid package, they first take the Cost of Attendance (which may or many not include indirect costs, such as books or personal expenses) and take the amount of your EFC right off of the top. What remains is your Financial Need (COA - EFC), which is what the college will try to fulfill using grants and scholarships, loans of various types, and Work-Study.

However, most colleges don't meet 100% of your Need. The amount that is not met is called the GAP (Need minus Aid). Therefore, you will have to add that GAP to your EFC to see the actual cost that you'll have to pay out of pocket for college expenses.

Calculator and cash and a graduation cap
Cost of Attendance (COA) 60,592
Expected Family Contribution (EFC) - 23,991
Financial Need 36,601
Total Aid - 33,000
Gap 3,601
EFC +23,991
Actual Out of Pocket Cost 27,592

In the example above, the Cost of Attendance is $60,592. The college then subtracted your EFC of $23,991 to determine your Financial Need of $36,601. However, they only offered a Total Aid award in the amount of $33,000. This still leaves $3,601. This is the Gap that you'll have to pay in addition to your EFC. So, your actual out of pocket cost is $27,592.

A note about loans: If you look at the different types of aid in your Financial Aid Award, you will see a Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loan for $2,000. This really shouldn't be called financial aid, but it's offered in 99% of all financial aid award offers, so we are obliged to count it. You are not obligated to take any loan or Work-Study offered.

Some colleges will include a Federal Direct PLUS Loan which looks like aid because it reduces your out of pocket cost. The cynic in me thinks it's the colleges' attempt to pass it off as real financial aid, at least initially. PLUS stands for Parent Loan to Undergraduate Student and it is not financial aid and should not be included when evaluating an award offer. In our example, if the college were to include a $27,592 PLUS Loan as part of the aid award, it would then look like college wasn't going to cost anything (that's actually the idea).

Or, they may simply include a PLUS Loan to let you know what you're eligible to borrow.

As you already know, scholarships and grants are free money that don't need to be paid back. With Federal Direct Subsidized Loans your student is getting the use of the money at no cost for as long as they're in college at least half-time and have a grace period of six months after they graduate.

Award Comparisons

When your student receives their second, third, etc. award letter, you can begin comparing them. When making these comparisons, you may find that not all colleges include transportation as part of the cost of attendance. Some may not include personal expenses and costs for books and supplies and if they do they may appear indirectly. If colleges don't include transportation costs in their letter, call and ask that it be included in the award package, and ask for aid to cover the cost, especially if the college is a fair distance from your home.

When looking at the different amounts you will be expected to pay, the challenge is to know if the awards are fair or not.

What To Do If You Need More Aid

Now that the sticker price for most colleges is beyond the reach of most parents, appealing the aid package has become de rigueur. Once the awards start coming in, the dance between you and the college begins. Colleges are obligated to review the awards with you. But getting a college to give your student more money is not an automatic. Sometimes, it's as simple as asking for more. More often, you'll want to be prepared by documenting the reasons for your appeal. Appealable circumstances are those where the family's income is impacted by out of the ordinary expenses. A college should know about anything that will impact your ability to meet the family's contribution. These include job losses, the costs associated with taking care of elderly parents, a fire, unusually high medical expenses, death of a parent and more.

cartoon man begging for more financial aid

Unless you're leveraging a merit award with a better one from a different college, you'll be asked to provide some kind of documentation that provides third-party confirmation. If you ask for more money without something to substantiate your request, it is doubtful that the school will see its way clear to increase the offer already on the table.

Despite all of this, it never hurts to ask if that's their best and final offer. The worst thing that can happen is they say, "No."

Don't Be Pressured

Colleges are accelerating their marketing efforts to entice your student to send in the deposit ahead of National Decision Day. With declining enrollments, admission departments are nervous they won't meet their class goals. To push your student into accepting sooner than later, colleges are now following up with letters implying that if you don't apply for the student loans right away and name them as the payee, your student will lose out on this "opportunity." It's a head fake to get your student to take the next step in the college selection process. Student loans should only be applied for AFTER you've sent the deposit, not before. What colleges don't tell you is your student can take out a federal student loan at anytime prior to the end of the school year!


Along with scheduling and prepping for the ACT and SAT, now is the time for your student to prepare an activities résumé also known as a "brag sheet" for three reasons:

  1. To give the brag sheet to your letter of recommendation writers (should they welcome it) that gives them plenty of material to go on that could give examples of the students character rather than just listing something done in class.

  2. Admission applications like the Common App don't allow for much detail of the student's achievements. The Common App has a section for Additional Information.

  3. Your student will have an amazing work and activity to give them the edge in applying for a summer job or a work-study position on campus.

But a brag sheet is so much more than that! As part of a well-crafted college admissions application, a brag sheet can help minimize less-than-perfect grades and test scores by putting the emphasis on the student as a whole and not just on their transcript.

The Purple Cow

A purple cow that stands out in the crowd

Colleges are a business. They spend a lot of money promoting their institutions. They are looking for ideal candidates to fill their seats. I suggest that your student promote themselves to the colleges they are interested and who might be interested in them. Start a romance. After all, we tend to like people who like us and they like people who like them. In this regard, private colleges are a lot like people. Finding a dozen good matches means you are likely to pay the least amount for your student's education.

A magnificently crafted brag sheet, dynamic activity section, essays that capture the reader's attention and enthusiastic letters of recommendation all go toward creating what it is referred to as a "Purple Cow." Think of a country road and seeing all the Jerseys in the pastures chewing their cud. They all look the same. All of a sudden, you spy a beautiful purple cow off by herself, completely out of place with the others. Admissions can't help but see it and say, "Ah, finally! Something interesting and exciting for a change."

Financial Aid Insider

Colleges have been dealing with declining enrollments for several years. To survive, they are discounting tuition more than ever, accepting fewer students, cutting majors, letting faculty go, and merging with other institutions. A few public universities are even offering in-state tuition to non-residents. Just because a college may be cleaning house doesn't mean it's not a good college.

There are occasions when the more expensive school may be the better value. Knowing the metrics by which to judge can help you decide that spending a little more can pay big dividends by lessening the time it takes to graduate.

Until next month...


Copyright © 2024 Collegiate Funding Solutions, Inc. All rights reserved.