How To Negotiate More Financial Aid As A College Student

By Brandie Erickson June 18, 2024 College Application College Search Press

Is it possible to negotiate more financial aid? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Colleges have continued to raise their prices year after year. In the past 20 years, in-state tuition at public universities has increased by an astounding 158%. The cost of attending a university is one of the many factors students are considering when making their college choice. As May 1, “decision day,” draws near, students should evaluate their financial aid offers with the cost of attendance to determine feasibility. With no relief in sight from rising tuition costs, students and their families might be wondering how they can get more financial aid from schools. Here are five steps students should follow to negotiate for more financial aid.

Step 1: Access Changes In Your Financial Situation

When schools initially send out their aid offers, they often use a formula to evaluate the family’s ability to pay for college. Of course, a standardized system will always have flaws, giving the student wiggle room to negotiate with the college.

To negotiate successfully, students must prove their need is more significant than indicated on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or the CSS Profile. When families fill out these forms, the information collected is based on two-year-old tax and income information. Many things might have changed since then, and these forms often don’t address those unique financial circumstances that families might find themselves in.

For example, families might have recently experienced high healthcare expenses, job loss or change in compensation, care for an elderly grandparent or a child with disabilities, natural disaster, change in marital status or family size, unusual capital gains, the loss of child support or Social Security benefits for a child, or many other factors. All of these factors and more can play a role in changing how much aid a family should get.

Step 2: Gather Relevant Documents

Once the family has accessed what has changed in their financial situation, the next step is to gather any necessary documentation to help demonstrate the changes or special circumstances. Make copies of any documents and include them in the appeal.

Step 3: Compare Other Aid Offers From Comparable Colleges

The next step is to look at the other financial aid offers received. If another university offers a student a substantial amount, they can use that in negotiations with their top choice university. However, only compare similar schools—a financial aid offer from a private university isn’t comparable to an offer of financial assistance from a public university.

Step 4: Write A Letter Appealing For More Aid

The student is encouraged to be the one to contact the financial aid office. Colleges like to see the student take ownership of the application journey, and it might be better received if the student is the one to write it.

In the letter, clearly state what has changed and why more aid is necessary to be able to attend college. This letter shouldn’t be more than 1-2 pages—the student doesn’t need to include their entire life story, but it should continue with the relevant documents to prove that more aid is necessary.

The tone of the letter should remain courteous—remember, the financial aid officers do want to help students get more aid, but sometimes, they can’t help more. Remaining polite in the initial letter and any further correspondence can help make a better impression.

Before writing and sending the letter, check with the institution on how they want to receive the letter. There might be a particular form that should go with the letter or be in a certain format. Following instructions can help improve the chances of getting more funds.

Step 5: Wait To Pay The Deposit

Students can appeal for aid at any point if their financial situation changes, including after the May 1 deadline. However, it might help if they wait to submit their enrollment deposit until they have written the appeal letter. It would also give students the chance to weigh all of their options more fully once they have the final decision from the financial aid office.

What Won’t Work

1. Making appeals based on academic merit. When trying to bargain for more financial aid, one thing that isn’t considered is the student’s academic achievements. If a student’s grades or test scores have improved, which might mean they can qualify for a better merit-based scholarship, the student should contact the admissions office.

2. Comparing a financial aid offer from a dissimilar institution. On average, the cost for a private college in 2021-2022 was $38,185, whereas public school attendees paid $10,338 in-state tuition or $22,698 out-of-state tuition. Because of the higher sticker price, a student’s overall scholarship at a private institution tends to be higher. However, because the overall cost of attendance isn’t the same for private vs. public schools, students shouldn’t use a financial aid offer from Drexel University to negotiate with the University of Michigan.

3. Harassing the financial aid office to get a response. Colleges are not obligated to give more money, regardless of the family’s financial situation. Therefore, students and parents should respect the financial aid officers’ time.

This financial aid letter can be worth thousands of dollars. Even if your appeal for more aid fails, your offer of acceptance is not in jeopardy. Do your research, prepare the documents, and write the letter to make your dream school more attainable.

This article was posted on here on Apple News and here on Forbes.