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Probably the most important thing for parents to remember about need-based aid is that the advice and information you receive from neighbors, relatives, co-workers, and bartenders is worth almost as much as you pay for it.

First of all, their financial situation is probably not identical to yours. Their children -- that is, their children's abilities, goals, and the colleges that they apply to -- are probably not identical to yours, either.

The next thing to remember is that the student-aid system is not monolithic, even though it looks that way. Federal student-aid programs have the same rules and limits everywhere, but the days when all colleges, or even certain groups of colleges, allocated their own financial aid exactly the same way are gone.

So the statement (idiotic, in my opinion) that because you own two cars, you can afford to send your child to one college does not mean that *every* college, or even every college that is more-or-less similar (in quality, cost, etc.) will say the same thing.

Some colleges have stopped using the FAF, because they think that fair decisions require more and different information. Filling out separate forms is a nuisance, but it may result in getting a scholarship that wouldn't have been offered otherwise. One college that abandoned the FAF found that, based on its own form, more students qualified for aid, although the average amount was less.

And it is worth negotiating. If the college you and your child prefer offers less money than you think you need, a call to the financial-aid director (if you think they misjudged your resources) or the admissions director (if you received a better offer somewhere else) *will* make a difference.
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