6 Tips for Negotiating More College Financial Aid


Bad news:  College can be expensive.  Good news: before dismissing a college because of price, there’s something to try: Ask for more money.

If your decision on which college your child attends depends on financial aid packages and-or scholarships, make sure you’re absolutely certain of your options. When financial aid packages aren’t sufficient to cover costs, you can appeal.

TIP FOR PARENTS OF JUNIORS: Financial aid packages are usually determined by the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), a document which can be filed as early as October 1 of a student’s senior year.  The sooner the FAFSA gets submitted, the sooner colleges will send out financial aid award letters. Getting your FAFSA in early increases the time you have to ask for more financial aid before the May 1st national deadline for tuition deposits. By acting fast, you can maximize your chances of success.


1. Ask for a specific amount of money 

Give the college’s financial aid office the specific and reasonable number which will make the difference in your child enrolling at their school over another.  This way the financial aid committee can better understand your needs.

Before submitting a number for need-based aid, do the math. Determine the net cost for each school on your list — the total price of attendance (including tuition, room and board, books, food, transportation) minus scholarships and grants. Then calculate what your family can contribute and compare it with each financial aid award letter received. Request the amount of money which will close the gap.

Keep in mind, colleges can’t give more money to every accepted student; however, sometimes an appeal can provide a few thousand more dollars for that year.

2. Determine which financial aid appeal to make

Appeals are usually either need-based or merit-based. Need-based considers special financial circumstances not included on your already submitted FAFSA. This can include unforeseen medical bills, the loss of a parent’s job, extra expenses for elderly parent care, divorce, and more. Incurring costs from a natural disaster can also qualify a family for further need-based financial aid. Merit-based appeals have greater chances of working if a student’s academic record (i.e. their grades and-or test scores) has dramatically improved since their application was submitted. Alternatively, if your student has won a major competition, or otherwise achieved or accomplished something, they should let the school know.

3. Leverage other offers

Schools compete for the best students. Make a merit-based appeal if a similar school offers your student more in merit scholarships or grants. In this case, a student should write to their top choice college and use the better award as leverage to ask for additional money. In their appeal, students must tell their top choice school they’ll enroll if the school can match the offer from their competitor.

Leveraging other offers can even work with Ivy league schools. Ivies do not offer merit scholarships, yet some may try to match more favorable need-based financial aid packages from others of their kind.

4. Write an excellent cover letter

Look on a college’s website for its appeals protocol. If you can’t find this information, call the school to inquire about procedures. Most schools require a form to be filled out and sent along with documentation.  Students also need to write a cover letter which compellingly lays out their argument.  The cover letter should come from your student.

Do not make an in-person appeal at the financial aid office. This tactic won’t get your child more financial aid. The people in the financial aid office don’t make the final decisions, and an appeal takes time to work its way through the system.

5. Provide evidence for everything

Students must provide as much detailed information as they can to support their appeal. For need-based aid appeals, provide facts and numbers that explain the family’s current financial situation. Add supporting documentation to justify any claims of hardship. This includes things like receipts, medical bills, official termination letters, and bank statements.

When negotiating for additional merit-based aid, attach copies of award letters from competing schools, so your target colleges can see how much is needed to close the gap. Also include proof of improved test scores and grades, and any additional letters of recommendation. All of this can make your student a more attractive candidate.

6.  Cement your commitment

Students should communicate with their top choice college. In their cover letter, they should say with a little bit of extra aid they’ll definitely and excitedly enroll. Also in the letter, students should thank the school for the package they’ve put together.

After a week or two, make a follow-up phone call or an appointment for an in-person visit. Confirm that your appeal was received, ask for an update, and see if the school needs anything else. Typically, colleges try to respond to an appeal before the May 1 enrollment deposit deadline.

Students can apply for and negotiate for more financial aid every year — sometimes what doesn’t work one year may work the next.

College advisors at International College Counselors can help you decide which college is right for your student, including by helping you understand the different financial aid options. Contact International College Counselors at http://www.internationalcollegecounselors.com or 954 414-9986.