Consumer Tip of the Day: Negotiating a Financial Aid Package

Use these tips to get a better deal

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Parents and students, on average, should expect to pay $22,826 for tuition at an in-state public college and $44,750 at a private college. Needless to say, you’ll probably need some financial assistance. That’s where financial aid comes in.

Fortunately, you don’t have to accept the first package you get. If you’re not satisfied with the package you receive from your school of choice, know that in many cases you can negotiate. Some schools will review a financial aid package through a process called a professional judgment.

Here are a few tips:

  • Fill out the FAFSA. In order to be considered for financial aid, you must first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which is used to calculate the amount of federally funded financial assistance your child will qualify for.
  • Call your school. If you decide that you want to appeal the financial aid decision, call the college and inquire about the appropriate course of action. You may have to fill out a form or write a letter explaining the reason you feel you qualify for additional aid. Remember to be polite when dealing with counselors on the phone or in person. They are more likely to help if you’re cooperative.
  • Don’t try to start a bidding war (because you can’t). Financial aid website FinAid emphasizes that parents and students are not in a position to play one school against another. Schools generally have a set policy in place when it comes to negotiating a better package.
  • Prepare to make your case. In your letter or form, give a detailed description of circumstances that affect your ability to pay. It could be the recent death of a high-earning parent or high medical debt. Make sure to include the appropriate documentation.
  • Look for additional sources of aid. If you’re met with resistance and the financial aid department is unwilling to make an adjustment, know that you generally cannot appeal again. You will have to research other types of aid. Consider a part-time job or outside scholarships.
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