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How to Negotiate Financial Aid Awards (College Admissions)

There’s much debate in the college admissions community about whether students accepted to colleges can negotiate their financial aid award.  First off, congratulations on even being able to consider such a task.  Now…let me be clear:  you absolutely can negotiate your financial aid awards.  Anyone who tells you something to the contrary is wrong.  Many college counselors discourage doing so often because they don’t want to risk their reputation.  But the reality is… it’s your family’s financial investment and not theirs to consider.

Knowing now that you can negotiate financial aid, here are 5 useful steps to help you receive more financial aid than you had expected:

(1) Make sure your FAFSA is accurate.  As these last two or three years have been financially difficult on families of all income brackets, you want to include as much detail about the profit or loss and/or financial harship your family has faced.  Particularly relevant are details such as money withdrawn from IRA and 401k accounts to pay for your education.  Your expected family contribution (EFC) can be significantly reduced by accurate and honest information about loss of income.  This is incredibly crucial to maximize the amount of financial aid you receive.  If you realized that the EFC is higher than it should be, you can amend the FAFSA if it was incorrect on the date in which you submitted the FAFSA form.  Be accurate though first to prevent any errors on the FAFSA form.

(2) Contact the school’s financial aid office when you receive your award.  The emphasis here is on contacting the school financial aid office, and not the admissions office.  Often times students and parents (more often) think they can magically contact the admissions office and say “I deserve more money because I’m so great…”.  This doesn’t work.  You should negotiate directly with the financial aid office, by showing things such as amendments to the FAFSA form, honest hardships, and other information that could be particularly important for them to know such as an accident or incident that happened between the time you filed the FAFSA form in, until the time you received your acceptance.  Financial aid offices are run by human beings who will help you at all costs.  Know that a school’s overall ranking (US News) can be affected by how many students actually attend once they’re accepted (the Admissions Yield Rate).

(3) If the above two steps failed to add more money to your financial aid package, then you should contact the admissions office and let them know the following…relevant information such as the fact you’re deciding between their college and a comparable college.  If you tell them you’re deciding between their college (Ivy League) and a low-ranked State University, there’s no chance that they’ll add money to your award. Be smart about the schools you compare them with – they’re smart enough to not care and/or not be fooled.  If you meet resistance on this front, you can try the next step…

(4) Re-take the SAT and/or ACT.  Improved scores on the SAT and ACT can improve your chances of receiving scholarships and financial aid.  Although the Ivy League doesn’t per se offer college scholarships, they will take your scores into consideration when deciding on “need-based” grants.  If your score simply fits within that school’s median SAT and ACT range, then you’re unlikely to receive much aid.  Consider re-taking  the tests and update the school’s admissions office with a letter indicating (your hopefully improved scores) and why you re-took these tests.  Further, with higher SAT and ACT scores, you now might be considered for scholarships at your top school.

(5) If none of the above steps work, consider applying for more individual scholarships at that college.  This could be your last hope for attending the school of your dreams, assuming your financial aid negotiation was unsuccessful.  Individual scholarship are usually named in honor of a school alumni – and often you might fit the category for a qualified applicant.

These five steps could help you receive more financial aid in the form of both need-based and scholarships.  You absolutely can negotiate financial aid awards, but please be smart about it and know that there are several steps involved to make it happen.


This article was written by educational expert and college counselor, Ross Blankenship.  Ross Blankenship is the Founder and Chairman of Top Test Prep.  For more information on Top Test Prep’s programs, call (800) 501-7737.


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