How To Appeal or Negotiate Financial Aid Offer

Is the cost of attending your dream college a little out of reach? Did you know you could appeal your financial aid offer? Here’s how to best negotiate your financial aid offer and help you keep a few bucks in your pocket!

Reasons To Negotiate Financial Aid

First, a few viable reasons to ask for additional funding:

  • You have new information that wasn’t in the application (test scores, GPA/rank increase, notable project, recognition, etc). Check to make sure the college has your strongest data correct in their system. 
  • Change in parents’ income from the tax year on your FAFSA (job loss, income loss, leave job to care for someone, etc). Document the decrease in income in detail.
  • Major expenses that are not addressed on the FAFSA (medical bills, mental health bills, family care, home repairs, etc) Remember these are unavoidable expenses, therefore private school, sibling tuition, extracurricular activities, cars, travel, cosmetic home improvements, etc are not usually considered.
  • You’re trying to make your college decision, and you’ll attend the college that offers you a great financial package. They might ask you what other colleges have offered you, so be prepared to discuss this. 

There are certainly other reasons to request additional funding. Remember, the worst they can say is “no”. 

How to Negotiate Financial Aid

Okay, so now HOW do you go about doing this? 

1. Apply For Financial Aid

First, apply for financial aid. Many college’s won’t even consider your appeal until you officially apply for financial aid, which means submitting a FAFSA and sometimes a CSS profile to the college.

2. Get A Point Person

Determine the best point person. Who have you been in touch with throughout the admission process? Admission counselor, financial aid counselor, dean of admission, etc. Start with the person at the college who you’ve been communicating with, and let them refer you if needed. This is why building a relationship with someone at the college early is helpful!

3. Share Gratitude

Be grateful. Always start with “thank you for your generous offer…”

4. Know Your Why

Be prepared to discuss WHY you’re asking for additional funding. (see “viable” reasons above).

5. Know The Process

Ask what the college’s “financial aid appeal” process is, and follow it precisely. Seriously, don’t miss those deadlines or skip a step. You don’t want them to have any reason to say no, if possible.

6. Include Your Student

Include your student. It’s totally okay (and expected) that the parent leads these conversations, but be sure to involve your student throughout the process. This is a great learning experience, and the college will appreciate this! Always copy student on the interactions and include them in the meetings.

7. Focus On The Right Number

Focus on the net price rather than the scholarship/grant. At the end of the day you’ll want to know how much you’ll write the check for.

8. Manage Expectations

Manage your expectations. If the college is able to offer additional funding, it will likely be in the range of $1,000-$4,000.

9. Know Your “Walk Away” Number

Have your “walk away” number. If the financial aid package is too heavy on loans, then it’s not a good deal in my opinion. 

10. Know Your Timeline

Know your timeline. Plan to make your final decision before mid-April. Housing assignments are usually first-come-first-serve, so this might encourage you to decide earlier. If it’s a school where the housing app is done before enrollment deposit (or housing isn’t a premium), then make a final decision before May 1. 

Additional Insight On Negotiating Financial Aid

Some insight into what the college might be thinking:

  • Does this student have the ability to pay what we’re asking? (as determined by the EFC- estimated family contribution)
  • Will this student help or hurt our bottom line?
  • How much funding is left in our budget to offer?
  • Are there other students we’d prefer to offer funding to?
  • Does this student seem excited enough to enroll anyway, even if we don’t offer more money?
  • Will this student help us meet our enrollment goals (majors, demographics, special talents, etc)  How close to our enrollment goals are we today? 
  • What is our data saying? 
    • Many colleges use software that tells them how much funding they can offer your family in order to enroll you (based on academic profile, interactions with the school, demographics, etc). It’s creepy, but they actually have a break-even number for each student. Typically, they offer lower on the front end, anticipating families might ask for more. And if their software gives them the green light, they will offer a little more in an attempt to enroll you. These awards range from $1,000-$4,000 typically.

Every year is different in college admissions and enrollment management. It’s impossible to predict if a college will be generous or not until you actually ask. If the answer is no, please don’t take it personally! Just rest easy knowing you did all you could.

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