By Brian Burnsed

Students who back out of their college commitments leave money on the table for their peers

Did you get less federal financial aid than you'd hoped, or miss out on that merit-based scholarship you were sure you'd receive? Fear not: It's likely that there is still money on the table for you -- even in midsummer -- if you know when and how to look, financial aid officials say.

Every year, prospective students who have committed to a school back out in the 11th hour, a trend commonly known as summer melt. While schools try their best to account for potential summer melt, some financial aid set aside for those students returns to the schools' coffers. And with students applying to more schools than ever -- almost 20 percent of students apply to eight or more colleges, according to results from a 2010 survey by researchers at the University of California -- Los Angeles -- there is greater potential now for more last-minute aid.

Don't expect these summer melt funds to fall into your lap, however; you have to be proactive. Use these five tips to earn more financial assistance from your school in the few weeks before you start classes:

1. Know when to ask:

Schools don't always have extra money lying around, and typically award more financial aid than they have to try to prevent any funding from going unused when students back out, but their estimations aren't always correct, says Mike Scott, director of student financial aid at Texas Christian University . It's best to contact schools in midsummer, when they'll be able to tell you just how much, if any, financial aid there is for the taking. "We admit more students than we have room for, and we offer more financial aid than we actually have," he says. "However, by midsummer we usually know if our projections were correct, or if we need to make adjustments."

2. Research scholarship options:

The rules applying to the dispersal of one scholarship may be different than those of another, even at the same school. Determine which scholarships the school offers that you might qualify for and call the financial aid office to see which ones might still be available late in the summer. "Find out what happens if a scholarship was previously awarded and now the awarded recipient declines it," says Kevin Michaelsen, director of financial assistance at Meredith College . "[Ask] 'Can other students now be considered?' Or ask if scholarship [deadlines] can be extended."

3. Get a job:

Aid officials note that they're more likely to award any additional funds to students who are doing all they can to make ends meet before they call the financial aid office to seek more funding. If you have a job and applied to every scholarship you qualify for among those offered by the school, it shows you're doing all you can to meet your financial need. Aid officers say they're more likely to give last-minute funding to students who go the extra mile.

Also, be sure to point out if you boosted your GPA during the latter half of your senior year -- a time when many students cruise to the finish line rather than sprint. "If you've been able to improve your GPA significantly last semester of senior year or if you were elected to a leadership position at your school or in your community, let your financial aid office know," says Amy Briggs, executive director of college prep programs at Kaplan Test Prep.

4. Be nice:

Navigating the logistical maze of financing college can be a frustrating and stressful process, but don't take those frustrations out on your school's financial aid department. Being courteous and professional can't guarantee you'll receive funding, aid officers say, but doing the opposite will almost certainly guarantee you won't see an extra dime. "The most difficult part of [an aid official's] job is deciding which students should have priority for the use of limited funding," says Scott of TCU. "Don't give them an easy reason to exclude you by being rude."

5.Try again later:

If you were unable to attain extra money in the summer, hit the books and see if you can take advantage of any funds that were freed up in the winter by students who transferred out of school, dropped out, or were sent packing for behavioral or academic issues. "Students should also check in again after the beginning of the spring term," says Scott. "If fall to spring retention is less than

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5 Ways Summer Melt May Mean Financial Aid for You