Can You Negotiate Financial Aid Package?

I am asked all of the time if a student’s financial aid package that a college offers can be negotiated, meaning can you ask for more money. The answer to this question is maybe. My usual response to families is: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You will never get taken away what you have already been awarded so there is no downside to making a call or sending an email to ask for more funds, whether they be on the merit end or the financial aid end. Merit funds awarded are based on a student’s credentials. Financial aid funds awarded are based on a student’s financial need.

Requesting Additional Financial Aid Doesn’t Mean You Will Receive It

Attempting to negotiate your financial aid package doesn’t mean that you will actually receive additional funds. There are some schools that won’t budge on what they have awarded. There are some schools that don’t even offer merit funds. Colleges are as individual as people, in their personality, what their boundaries are, the funding they have available and what they are willing to release to which students. So your attempts at negotiation will be met differently at each of your schools.

How to Negotiate a Better Financial Aid Package

After asking if they can negotiate financial aid, the next question asked is usually, “How do I go about asking for more money?” This is the million dollar question, but it doesn’t really have a million-dollar answer. It can be pretty simple. 99% of the time you have to show proof. Proof of what you may ask? Proof that you have other offers that are greater than what the college you are going back to to ask for more money has given you. When I say “greater” I mean on a net cost basis. See below for an example:

College A
$60K Cost of Attendance
$15K Per Year Awarded
$45K Net Cost

College B
$50K Cost of Attendance
$10K Per Year Awarded
$40K Net Cost

In addition, you have to look at each of the colleges on a net cost basis to compare apples to apples. If College A costs more and is giving you more money than College B, and College B costs less, it is important to look at the bottom line, the net cost, as outlined in my example above.

When going back to College A, you will typically be asked to provide the financial aid award letter from College B as proof of what they have offered you. If you have multiple schools that offered you more funds and are a net cost of less than College A and all of these colleges are on a similar academic level, then you have the beginnings of showing proof to plead your case to get more money.

Higher Placement in the Applicant Pool Helps Your Request

Another negotiating factor could be where you fall in a school’s applicant pool. If you are more in the top of their application pool, meaning that they probably have a greater desire for you to attend their school, they may be more generous in providing additional funds than if you are in the bottom end of their applicant pool and were pretty fortunate to just get accepted.

If You’re Going to Negotiate Make Sure the School Tops Your List

Another note is that if you are going to go back to the well you want to be pretty sure that if this college offers you the money you are asking for, or a portion of what you are asking for, that this is a school that is at the top of your list to attend. You don’t want to spend time negotiating a financial aid package for a school that isn’t a top choice for you.

Negotiate Through Email

Negotiating may be best done in an email since there is quite a bit of backup that you need to provide. You may want to call the school first to find out who you need to send this financial aid request to.

Even after you do all of the above, it may be that College A says that they cannot provide you more funds, that they either don’t have the funds to give or they just don’t provide additional funds after they are awarded. If that is the case, at least you know you have tried and have left no stone unturned.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.
Contact us at info@signaturecollegecounseling.com or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students in person, through Zoom, over the phone and by email.

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