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5 Tips For Increasing Your Financial Aid Offer

Alex Bickford

Written by Alex Bickfordon March 8th, 2016

I joined College Coach as part of the college financing team from the education finance department of Citizens Bank. Before my stint with Citizens, I worked as an Assistant Director of Financial Aid at Southern New Hampshire University. I've spent most of my professional career working in financial aid and have assisted traditional undergraduate, adult learners and master’s degree students in financing their educations. I have a master’s degree in business education, a bachelor’s degree in hotel and restaurant management, and an associate’s degree in culinary arts.
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At this time of year, many parents of seniors may be sensing some relief. Your child has completed all of his or her admissions applications and is starting to see a few offers of admission. Additionally, you have completed the necessary financial aid applications, like the FAFSA and the CSS Profile (if required by the colleges on your list). So, you’re thinking you have some time between now and the deadline to deposit to kick back and put up your feet. But before you shut off your mind, know that there is one more (often overlooked) step to the financial aid process that you need to complete before you send off your deposit check. NEGOTIATE! No, colleges are not car dealerships, and you can’t negotiate with all of them. But families often leave thousands of dollars on the table when they do not take the extra step to negotiate. It is not as easy as calling the college and saying, “I will pay no more than X amount of dollars for my child’s education,” but here are some key tips to complete this process with success!
  1. Understand the difference between appealing and negotiating: A financial aid appeal is based on the information on the financial aid form not accurately depicting your family’s true financial situation. Financial aid appeals should be done to make the college aware of some unusual circumstance, like:
    • Job loss
    • One-time financial gain
    • Unusually high medical expenses
    • Private high school expenses
    • Parent educational loan debt
      Negotiating financial aid is different in that the reason you are asking for more money is because your student may have a better financial aid package from another school, a better scholarship offer from a competing college, or a less expensive college to which they have been accepted.
  2. Write a letter: No, you don’t have to put ink to the paper unless you would prefer to do it that way; an email to the college is not only perfectly fine, but pretty much required. Address the letter to your student’s financial aid officer or to the college’s director of financial aid.
    • Note: If you are negotiating recruitment-based scholarships, your email should be addressed to your student’s regional admissions officer or the director of admissions.
  3. Attach other offers: Colleges want to know what they are up against, so it is best to attach the documentation from other colleges to your email.
  4. Follow up! I always suggest families put in the letter and then, if they haven’t heard back in two weeks, to follow up. This will not only help ensure the college responds in a timely manner, but allow them time to do the work on their end before you make the phone call.
  5. Complete negotiations before you deposit: While you may be tempted to put down a deposit at your student’s first choice college, doing so before you negotiate or appeal your award may significantly decrease your chances of success. Negotiate or appeal before you make your deposit to ensure you still have the leverage you need.
Regardless of the method, there is no downside to appealing or negotiating financial aid, as long as the student has already been accepted into the college (and preferably received their initial financial aid offer). You will never be worse off than you were when you received the initial offer and you may even be rewarded with more money in your pocket! Relevant Episodes of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation: Whitepaper-CTA


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