5 Simple Tips for Negotiating College Financial Aid Packages

January 29, 2014 
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financial aid

Many consumers don’t realize that a college’s initial financial aid offer is often less than what the school is ultimately able to provide. Most colleges offer need-based financial aid and academic merit scholarships, and some offer athletic scholarships.

A number of helpful articles have focused on this topic. Erin Peterson’s Bankrate.com article, 10 Ways to Land More College Financial Aid” encourages students to ask for more financial aid. ABC News Tips for Negotiating Financial Aid for College and The Etiquette of Negotiating a Better Deal, by Barry Fox College Finance, provide tips for negotiating financial aid packages.

Here are five simple tips from these resources:

  1. Leverage your other financial aid offers: Peterson’s number one tip for scoring the top financial aid package is to “make colleges compete.” There’s a very strong chance that colleges are holding back a little when they send you their first financial aid offer. Forge ahead by applying to the several schools and see what they’ll offer. If you show your first choice some higher offers, they might be willing to match or exceed other offers in order to keep you as a student.
  2. Stay on top of deadlines: A lot of people miss out on financial aid simply because forms are incorrectly filled out or turned in late. Make sure to return forms before the due date or ask for an extension. Take the extra time to make sure all forms are filled out, signed, and dated correctly.
  3. Ask for a reassessment: If your family income or expenses dramatically change, it’s a good idea to ask for a reevaluation. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is only offered once a year, so it won’t reflect a major event that impacts your family’s finances. If a parent loses a job or starts supporting another family member financial aid offices will take that information into account.
  4. Be polite: All of the websites agree—stay positive. An adversarial approach won’t motivate people to help you. In the Bankrate.com article, Craig Powell, President and CEO of ConnectEDU.net says, “Financial aid officers got into this business because they’re interested in helping young people realize their educational dreams, but they’re making decisions with limited information. Helping financial aid officers get an honest picture of the situation you’re in is much more effective.” So be polite and work with the financial aid office.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask: Show financial aid officers everything that could possibly increase their award package—academic awards, athletic honors, recognition in a volunteer program, etc. Take the extra step to be proactive and request more aid. It’s important to remember that a “no” won’t change the financial aid package already offered. You can also ask the college if there are additional scholarships and grants they recommend applying for.

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