Negotiating Your Financial Aid Package 101

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Carefully evaluate the contents of each school’s proposed aid package. The best packages are those that offer more money in the form of grants than in loans, or that offer low-interest loans. There should also not be a gap between what the school sees as your expenses and what you actually anticipate the expenses to be. Finally, check to see what family assets the school is taking into consideration in determining your EFC.

Negotiation. It’s the one word that financial aid administrators (FAAs) hate to hear. Some of them won’t even acknowledge that negotiating an aid package is an option. The truth is that if you truly feel you deserve more than you’re getting, and can justify your reasoning, you should seriously consider asking for more assistance.

Reasons for Negotiating 

Your financial situation has recently changed (if true, this is the one reason that will almost always get you more aid)

  •  You do not believe the school has taken all your expenses into account
  • The school is using your scholarship money or high-interest, unsubsidized loans to count toward your package
  • You simply feel that what you can bring to the school (academic excellence, athletic ability) is worth the school’s extra effort.

You should never approach an FAA with a cocky attitude that you deserve more than you’re getting. Always be friendly and reasonable, and explain your reasoning honestly. If you’re a straight-”A” student or a talented athlete, you will, of course, have a better chance of winning the argument. But even an average student can negotiate a better deal in the right situations. Here is an example of a good versus a bad approach:

Bad Approach

“We have too much credit card debt to afford our bills and a college education! Can’t you take our financial problems into consideration?”

  • [coach:Financial aid administrators rarely consider bad debt a reason to grant you more funds, except in some cases where unusual hardships are involved.]
  • [coach:Inform your FAA of any changes in your family's circumstances as soon as they occur. Don't wait until it's time to fill out the next year's FAFSA or FAF.]

Good Approach

“I’ve calculated what we truly need to pay for all our college expenses, and the package you have offered does not seem to take all these factors into consideration. Can we realistically address these issues and see if the package can be adjusted?”

Good Arguments

  •  Costs that might not have been considered on the financial aid forms, including medical expenses, tuition for a young child in private school or for an older child in graduate school.
  •  The financial aid determined was based on a year that was unusually profitable; you typically don’t earn as much as you did in the year that was reported.

 Knowing Who To Speak Too?

  • Try negotiating with the financial aid administrator at your selected school. Do not approach them aggressively, but rather with reasonable, well thought-out arguments. Make certain to back up your arguments with as much hard evidence as possible.
  • The FAA is not the only person you can talk to, however. Colleges and universities typically have award committees that determine aid packages. To circumvent the financial aid office, contact the school’s admissions office and request the name and address of the chairperson who heads the financial aid committee. Also, find out what day the committee is scheduled to meet next. Then send a letter of appeal to the chairperson before the meeting.
  • When negotiating or appealing your aid package, it is best to have an adult rather than a young college student do it. If possible, such negotiations should also be done in person. In this way, you are there to counter any arguments the FAA might offer, and it also shows you are able to go the extra mile to get what you want.
  • But letters are also a perfectly valid way to negotiate for more aid. Even if you visit the FAA in person, it’s a good idea to record your thoughts and actions in writing. Here are a couple of sample letters to get you started.

 SAMPLE LETTER: NEGOTIATING A BIGGER PACKAGE

October 1, 2005

Mary Burns, Financial Aid Administrator

XYZ College

123 Main Street

Anywhere, CA 91023

Dear Ms. Burns:

I have recently examined the Student Aid Report for XYZ College, and there are some items I wish to address. First of all, I would like to reject the PLUS loan, as it does not offer a very favorable rate. Please also reduce the $2,500 unsubsidized Stafford Loan to $1,500.

I also noticed that the package you have outlined here does not take into consideration some of the necessary expenses of college, including books, fees, and travel costs.

I am very impressed with the academic reputation of XYZ College, but I have also been considering PDQ University, which has presented me with a package that includes some of the expenses mentioned above. I would like to discuss my package further with you, and explore what other financial aid opportunities might be available to me at XYZ College.

Please contact me at your earliest convenience. Thank you for your time and consideration!

Sincerely,

A. Student

 

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