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Family Ignores My Advice, Comes Up Smelling Like Roses Anyway!

College Success Bulletin

OK, I understand – it’s your call, I responded when they told me the news – they would not be following my advice (always gratifying!).

I started working with the Ringer family a year prior, during Jane, their daughter’s, Junior year of high school.  We spent much of our time on college selection, resume-building activities, the various and sundry essays and all of the other moving parts of today’s college application process.

In August, we started to have the same conversations.  I love Emory, what do you think about applying Early Decision?

(For the uninitiated, “ED” is binding – if you apply ED, you multiply your chances of getting in, but you must withdraw your applications everywhere else if the college admits you.)

I don’t like it – once you get in, you have no other choices, no other offers to use as leverage if they “lowball” you, I said.

I know, but I really just love it there, and applying Early Decision will really help my chances, Jane said.

So they applied ED at the end of October.  And waited.

In December, Jane got her “thick envelope” – she was in!

Two or three days later, the financial aid award package limped in:  $5,500 in loans.  Nothing else.

What do you think happened, Jane’s mother asked me.

This is what I was worried about, although I didn’t think they’d lowball you THIS much, I said.  Only one of two things are possible;  either they made some kind of mistake, which is extremely unlikely, or they think you make more money than you show on your tax returns.

Jane’s father is self-employed, and her mother works part time.  Like a lot of self-employed families, the Ringers had a fair amount of write-offs, which lowered their income “on paper.”

Do you really think that’s what happened? Jane’s father asked.  How do we prove that we don’t make more? 

I did think that was the problem, but was wondering how exactly one proves the absence of something.  I advised them to call the financial aid office to explain that they had used the college’s Net Price Calculator and came up with a dramatically different result.  I thought they deserved an explanation at the very least.

The financial aid advisor at Emory told them that they felt that their mortgage payments were too high, based on their reported income.

The Ringers told Emory that their mortgage payment had actually decreased, because they had just refinanced.  The financial aid officer asked for proof of lower mortgage payments and said they would reconsider their financial aid application – in April.

The problem:  Jane had to commit to attend Emory by January 15th, or withdraw her application.

What should we do?  Will they give us more?  the Ringers wanted to know.

I think they’ll do SOMETHING to help, but you’re really rolling the dice, I said.  I have no idea if they’ll give your file a fair read, but see if they’ll expedite your review.

Unfortunately, Emory told them that they would not reassess their award until April.  After much deliberation, the Ringers decided to accept, and take their chances.

On December 22, something strange happened – the New York Times published an article that, among other things, described how Emory engaged in exactly the same practice that I suspected they did to my client – artificially “grossing up” their income!  Mr. Ringer and I emailed each other the article, wondering if it would help, or hurt, their review.

Fast forward to March 28th – the Ringers finally received their revised award:  $38,597 in a grant, a couple of loans and some work study thrown in.  What a turnaround!

Did the Times article help?  I suspect it did, although I have no way of knowing.  It could not have hurt.

I thought we had a great chance at getting a goose egg – zero – in financial aid.  I thought we had a decent shot at getting $10,000.  I did NOT think that we’d get anywhere close to the number we ultimately received.

Which goes to show you, always appeal, even if you think the answer will be  “get lost.”  Because even the gurus (hah!) like me can be wrong.

Kudos to Emory, I think.

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