The era of the financial aid appeal has arrived in full, and April is the month when much of the action happens.
For decades, in-the-know families have gone back to college financial aid officers to ask for more grant money after the first offer arrived. At many private colleges and universities, half or more of families who appeal get more money.
Your best shot with an appeal will come from a change in your family's financial circumstances. Possibilities include job loss or other reduction in income, new health expenses, death of a parent, disability of a family member, nursing home costs, natural disasters or parental credit woes that make borrowing impossible.
When you make the appeal, Kelly O'Brien, the director of financial aid at Trinity College, suggests that it be written, quantified and documented.
Aside from "need-based" aid, many institutions also give away "merit" scholarships to students they want to attract, regardless of their ability to pay.
This is where things get tricky. Enrollment specialists have figured out that people who appeal are more likely to attend than people with aid offers who do not appeal, regardless of whether the appeal is successful.
In fact, according to Jim Scannell, the co-founder of consulting firm Scannell & Kurz, sometimes the people with rejected appeals enroll at a higher rate than those with winning appeals. "You're not going to appeal to a place that you're not serious about," he said.
Families need to be honest with themselves about the quality of their student applicants. "Be realistic about how they will stack up," against other applicants, said Kalman Chany, an aid consultant to families.
"If you're barely sneaking in, they don't care if you come so much. But if they're buying your SAT scores or grades to improve their rankings and convince other people to spend the money to go there, then they really have to have you."