Can You Negotiate Your Financial Aid?

When financial aid award letters arrive, some students feel disappointed. They have been dreaming of attending a specific school, but the money is just not adding up. Many television shows and movies have showed this disappointment because it is something that happens so often in real life. Some counselors will tell you that you can negotiate your financial aid. But, can you negotiate financial aid? Students and families can do whatever they want. However, before picking up that phone to contact admissions or financial aid officers, follow these tips from someone who worked very closely with financial aid.

Before sharing all of this information with you, I served as a director of admissions and worked very closely with financial aid. I had a lot of contact with students when financial aid award letters came out because sometimes the awards were not what they were expecting. And, the worst things students and parents could do was aggressively try to negotiate their financial aid award letters. Being demanding and aggressive may actually discourage the institution official from increasing your financial aid. However, there are things you can do to possibly increase your financial aid.

There are two things to reminder when negotiating your financial aid

  1. Don’t treat the discussion as a negotiation. Most financial aid offices are not in the business of negotiating. When they sent out your financial aid award letter, it was calculated the way they calculate all financial aid awards at the institution. Just because you think you should receive more aid does not mean they will give you more. In the financial aid officer’s eyes, your award letter is fair.
  2. Don’t have a bad attitude. No one likes working with someone with a bad attitude. And, having a bad attitude when trying to get more financial aid will not help your case. Coming in with a bad attitude may actually hurt your case because they may see someone with a bad attitude as someone who will always have a bad attitude.

So, how can you get more financial aid? There is no guarantee the financial aid office will increase your financial aid, but there are strategies you can use when trying to increase your aid:

Be polite and gracious

People are more likely to help friendly and nice people. Going in and accusing the person on the phone that they did something wrong will only make the person defensive. Threatening that you or your child will not attend the college unless they increase aid may have them thinking, “good riddance.”

Let them know the college is where you want to be

If the college knows the student is highly likely to enroll if more aid is awarded, they may be able to help. Many colleges, especially those with higher acceptance rates, don’t always meet their enrollment goals. Awarding a little more aid to a student who really wants to attend could help the institution reach their enrollment goal.

Does something seem wrong?

After reviewing the financial aid opportunities at the institution, did you receive the scholarships you were expecting? For example, if the college offers merit awards, did you receive the award you think you deserve? If something is missing, it is okay to ask if a mistake was made. It is possible there was a data entry error. However, it is important to go in with information instead of accusing them of making a mistake. A good way to approach it is to say something such as, “I have a 3.5 GPA and your website says students with a 3.5 GPA will receive a merit award. However, I was not awarded a merit award.” By approaching the subject like this, the financial aid officer is more likely to think, “Oh, maybe we made a mistake,” and they may want to look into it right away and fix the mistake.

Other colleges offered much more aid

Colleges have different formulas when awarding financial aid. So, it is quite possible other colleges will award much more financial aid. Don’t go into the conversation saying something such as, “College A, B, and C gave me so much more financial aid. If you don’t meet the aid they offered, I will not be attending your college.” Instead, you can contact the financial aid office and explain the different aid offered at the other college and you’re a little confused their college offered so little. By hearing the numbers this way, the financial aid officer may want to look to see if they made a mistake when calculating your aid.

Have circumstances changed?

There is no need to negotiate financial aid if your circumstances have changed. You can contact any or all of the financial aid offices to explain things have chanced since the figures were given on the FAFSA. For example, if income has decreased, share that information with the financial aid officer. Financial aid offices have procedures for students who have special circumstances and will recalculate aid if the student and family can provide proof of the specific circumstances. Colleges deal with special circumstances differently, so contact the college to learn of the procedures and what you will need to submit to be considered.

Have a number in mind

Maybe everything was calculated correctly on your financial aid award, but it just wasn’t enough. If you know how much more would be needed, share that with the financial aid officer. For example, “My daughter really wants to attend, but we’re $1,000 short. Is there anything we can do?”

Don’t ask for “the moon”

If you will still need a big amount of financial aid to be attend the college, unfortunately it might not happen. You can always ask your questions of the financial aid office, but they may not help if you are asking for a huge increase in your financial aid.

Be prepared

Have all of your information prepared before contacting the financial aid office. Know your GPA, test scores, EFC, etc. Lay out your reasons for why you think financial aid should be increased. Confidence can really help when negotiation or discussing financial aid and your need for an increase.

Unfortunately, for many students, financial aid has to play a huge role in the decision process. If not enough financial aid is offered, the student may not be able to attend the college they really want to attend. It is definitely okay to ask for more aid from the financial aid office, but it is important to do it in a way that does not feel like negotiating. Instead, be nice and share your concerns about paying for college. Most people are much more likely to want to help if the person who needs help is nice and is prepared to explain why it is important aid is increased.

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