How to Negotiate for a Better Financial Aid Award

It’s that time of year again. Families are beginning to hear from colleges regarding financial aid. For a few families, this is exciting as they are getting more in aid than originally anticipated. For most though… it can be a stressful and frustrating experience. When you aren’t getting the type of financial aid for which you believe you deserve, you may be left to question if college is even an option. Let me tell you… it is! You just need to know next steps.


Most parents don’t consider negotiation with financial aid at all, and they figure that whatever the schools offer them will be the best that they will get. Let me tell you something… this belief is false. FALSE.


When you went to purchase your vehicle or lease your car did you accept the first offer they made you? If not, did you look at their price as a “starting point” for negotiation? Consider when you bought your home. Did you purchase it at listed price or did you negotiate to get the seller’s price down? Both your car purchases and your home purchases are big sticker items. Cars can cost tens of thousands and homes can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. College can cost the same. Why wouldn’t you negotiate for a better deal in college then?


A college education for your child (or children) is one of the single biggest investments you will ever make in your entire lifetime. Doesn’t it make sense to treat it like any other major purchase? We think so.


The Basic Ways to Negotiate


After you’ve applied for admission, been accepted, and received a financial aid award, you’re ready to negotiate. You do so through an appeals process. You’ll appeal directly to the Director of Financial Aid asking for a better offer via a personal letter or email. You’ll need to do so wisely, so here are some general tips:


  • Be concise.
  • Ask for a specific number, and make sure it is realistic (i.e. we need $4,000 this year in order to attend).
  • Do not send an appeal to the financial aid office without talking with someone on the phone prior. Talk to someone briefly about your situation and send your appeal directly to the person you spoke to and the Director of Financial Aid.
  • Don’t get emotional. Financial Aid offices won’t cave if you cry.
  • Don’t rely on grades for a better deal. They’ve seen your grades. Getting an A instead of a B in a senior class won’t make or break an award.


Now you need to have a reason for an appeal. Some reasons are good ones and some aren’t good. Here is a list of good reasons for your appeal:


  • Job loss: “Our income last year is not how much we’ll have this year. You’ll see that on next year’s financial aid form. Our EFC shouldn’t be so high.”
  • Medical bills: “We have excessive medical bills for our youngest child, and we had nowhere to explain that on our financial aid form. We need more help.”
  • Dependent care: “We take care of my father-in-law, and we weren’t able to list those costs on the financial aid form. We need more help because we can’t take away his care.”
  • Specific gap: “My son really wants to attend your school, but we just can’t afford it. We only need $4,000 more in aid this year, and then we can make it work.”
  • Competition: “My daughter wants to go to your institution above all others, but yours is also the most expensive. We got a better deal from another school. If you could meet their offer or meet somewhere in between, then we can send her. I hope you can help us make her dreams come true.”


Keep in mind that if you’re planning to appeal but you don’t have a “good reason,” you can still try; however, we do not encourage your or condone lying to the college to get more help. You appeal because you need the assistance and/or the award they offered you isn’t in line with the school’s average financial aid package.



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