The same is true of college. Believe it or not, college financial aid packages are subject to negotiation. The key is knowing how to win a financial aid appeal.
In fact, one-fifth of private colleges are willing to offer a tuition discount, and you might be surprised at how well you can do at public universities as well.
Here’s what you need to know when you negotiate college tuition.
How to Ask a College for More Money: Start Strong
How do you negotiate college tuition? You need to start from a strong position. That means making sure your student can show that they have something to offer the school. Have your ducks in a row, including:
- Good GPA
- Solid test scores
- Extracurricular activities
- Job or leadership experience
By presenting a well-round student likely to succeed at college, add to university life, and potentially excel after school, you start in a strong position to ask a college for more money.
What’s the Best Way to Negotiate a Financial Aid Package? 5 Tips for Getting the Best Results
Now that you’re squared away with how you look on paper, it’s time to move forward with how to ask a college for more money.
1. Understand the Percentage of Need Met
Head over to College Data and look up your preferred school. Among the information provided is how much of unmet need the college will help with. So, let’s look at an example:
- Percentage of need met: 75%
- Cost of college per year: $40,000
- Your EFC: $15,000
The difference between the cost of attending school and what the government says your family can afford based on the FAFSA is $25,000. If the school is willing to meet 75% of that gap, you should receive a financial aid package worth $18,750.
If you don’t see that, it’s time to make a financial aid appeal.
2. Contact the Admissions Office
Now, that financial aid package might include loans, and even if the school offers the full amount it should provide, there could still be a gap. This is when you call the admissions office. Again, you need to be armed with information and a great student.
You can ask a college for more merit scholarship money by pointing out your child’s academic, athletic, artistic, and leadership qualities. use extracurricular activities and relevant work experience to show the admissions office that a student deserves a merit scholarship.
3. Negotiate Before Sending a Deposit
Don’t send in your deposit before you negotiate college tuition with the financial aid and admissions offices. The timing matters. If you’ve already sent in your deposit, there’s a good chance the school won’t worry too much about cutting a deal.
However, if you work on this before the national May 1 deadline for deposits, you have a better chance. Get your numbers squared away (this can help if you apply for early action) and send an email requesting a review. Then, ask if you can follow up with a phone call or in-person appointment in the coming weeks.
4. Leverage Other Offers
Emphasize that this school is your student’s first choice, but that you do have other offers. Show the school other scholarship offers so they can see that you could get a good deal elsewhere.
For example, when I was weighing school choices, I was able to show schools that I had been offered full-ride scholarships and performance stipends and different institutions. As a result of comparison shopping, I was able to get schools to make improved offers.
5. Find Out What’s Available in Subsequent Years
You might get a break on first-year tuition, but that doesn’t mean the following years will be as cheap. Many departments, honor society chapters, and other organizations offer chances to help pay for school.
Find out what scholarships and other opportunities are available for subsequent years so your student can start preparing and working toward those scholarships.
Schools need students. Enrollment is down, and schools with low offer conversion rates need help turning applications into actual students. Do a little shopping around, know your stuff, and you might be able to successfully negotiate college tuition.
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by Miranda Marquit, who has been covering personal finance for more than 10 years, including aspects of college planning and student loans. She is a recognized money expert and has contributed to numerous media outlets, including Forbes, Marketwatch, NPR, USA Today, Investopedia, and U.S. News & World Report. She lives in Idaho with her teenage son — who she’s just starting to guide through the college selection and admissions process.