Congratulations on hitting the admissions “trifecta!" Many folks would not shed a tear to hear about your “problem," but I'm sure it must be frustrating to be so close to attending Yale yet thwarted by the cost. Perhaps by now you have heard from Harvard, too, and you don't need this advice. But if that's not the case then, yes, you CAN appeal your Yale aid award although a successful appeal is not a sure thing.
It seems that the Yale financial aid officials have seen the same data that the Princeton officials saw but responded to it differently. That does happen, especially when there are extenuating circumstances that are not always viewed consistently.
1) Make an appointment to speak to a Yale financial aid officer on the phone. Don't just assume that someone will be available as soon as you call. And if someone is available right away, he or she may not have as much time to spend as when the session is planned in advance. If you live within a reasonable drive, try to go in person (but always with an appointment). The family member who can best explain your financial situation should be the one to take part in this conversation. It doesn't have to be you, the student.
2) Sound grateful for having the opportunity to attend Yale. Don't act annoyed or entitled. In other words, grovel!
3) Explain that you have received a very different offer from Princeton, and be prepared to send it to Yale via fax or email. Ideally, in fact, you would have sent it as soon as you set up the appointment. Ask the Yale official (very nicely) to explain how he or she interpreted the information differently.
4) If a better offer from Yale would allow you to enroll, even if Yale doesn't match the Princeton offer, then provide this information. Don't be like Oliver Twist and simply ask for “more." When you call, be sure to have a specific dollar amount in mind … e.g., “If we had $8,000 in grant [or whatever amount is required], then I [or “my child"] could enroll." But don't offer this figure unless the Yale official says that your package there won't change.
5) Be sure to jot down the name of the person you spoke with and, if any money is offered, get it in writing immediately (email is fine).
6) Email your regional admissions rep (the Yale staff member who oversees applicants from your high school) and explain that you will be contacting the financial aid office because you really want to go to Yale but Princeton has made a great offer, and Yale has offered nothing. Express your regret that you MIGHT have to turn Yale down due to cost. If you happen to be your rep's favorite applicant (well, give or take) perhaps he or she will put in a good word for you with the finaid folks.
Financial aid officers usually do have some leeway when it comes to adjusting an aid package. So it's important that you treat them respectfully and not insist that the college owes you a better deal. The fact that you were admitted to Harvard, Princeton, and Yale suggests that you are a very strong candidate, and each college may be eager to get you. But all of the Ivy League schools turn away many fabulous applicants every year, and so don't go into this negotiation with the assumption that Yale will do whatever it takes to land you. Instead, try to patiently discuss how Princeton may have viewed your aid forms differently which led to a very generous aid offer, but keep insisting that you still want to be in New Haven next fall.
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