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7 steps to boost a financial aid award

(MoneyWatch) What if your child receives a financial aid award that isn't enough?

Millions of families have faced that dilemma, but there are steps that families can take to boost an inadequate aid award.

If you are in this predicament here are seven steps to take:

1. Make sure the package is correct.

Schools do make mistakes with their awards. If the financial aid letter is significantly lower than the awards from other colleges, ask the school if the award is accurate.

2. Don't assume that the financial aid offer is final. 

According to Jerry Israel, the former president of the University of Indianapolis and the author of 75 Biggest Myths About College Admissions, many initial aid awards can be "lowball offers." The initial award "will likely be a figure that intends to be the lowest the college reasonably expects you to accept."

3. Appeal the financial aid award.

Schools don't broadcast this fact, but it is sometimes possible to successfully appeal disappointing financial aid awards. If the aid package your child receives is underwhelming, you can ask a college to reconsider the award. Just don't approach the school and announce that you want to "negotiate." Be diplomatic.

4. Approach the right staffer.

Find out what the school's appeal process is. Some schools require families to complete an online appeal form. When sending emails or letters make sure you are directing the correspondence to the right person.

5. Show other offers.

You will have a better case if your child has received stronger aid awards from other colleges and universities. Contact a school with a weaker award and share that your child would like to attend, but money is an issue and other schools have provided larger packages. Schools willing to reconsider will typically ask families to fax or scan over the higher offers.

6. Update a school on your financial circumstances.

If your family has experienced changes since you submitted your financial application, update the school. Changes that can impact an award include deaths and births in a family, divorce or separation, large medical bills and the loss of a job.

7. Reexamine your financial aid applications.

The reason why the offer might look miserly could be because the parent, who completed the financial aid application, committed mistakes. Check back on the figures to make sure they are accurate.