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How Can I Negotiate With Colleges If I Need More Financial Aid?

If your college financial aid package isn't as much as you need, you can appeal it! Our experts have some advice on negotiating and how to do it right.

Lindsey CongerLindsey Conger
College Counselor and Tutor
Moon Prep
As you receive college decisions, you and your family should review your financial aid offers and calculate the actual cost of attending the schools you’ve been accepted to. Most colleges and universities allow financial aid appeals, but the process and reasons they accept for a change in aid offers can vary greatly. If you believe you’re eligible for additional aid, you should write a letter to the admission officers at your preferred university. You have nothing to lose, so why not appeal? This letter should demonstrate how your current income and savings—along with that of your parents—can’t cover the cost of attending that college.

It's important to have a conversation with your parents before writing the letter—has something changed in your family's financial situation? For example, did one of your parents lose their job or get a new job with a lower income? Your family might also be facing increased expenses, such as child care costs or college tuition and fees for your siblings. There are many reasons why college may no longer be affordable, and the appeal letter is your chance to explain this. Bear in mind that this letter could be worth more than $10,000, so it isn’t something to spend just a few minutes on. Take the time to think it through with your parents and write it well. Here’s what you should include in your letter:

  • Specify the amount you need: Don't just ask for money—ask for a specific amount that will make attending this college feasible.
  • Provide proof: Without documentation to support your request, your chances of receiving more aid are minimal.
  • Compare offers from other universities: If another university has offered you a substantially larger financial aid package, you could use that as a negotiation tool. However, keep in mind that private universities typically offer more aid than public schools because they have higher tuition fees. Therefore, asking a public school to match a private university's offer may be unrealistic.
  • Maintain a professional tone throughout the letter: In this case, it pays to be polite and sincere.
  • Emphasize your strong commitment to attending: Make it clear that money is the only obstacle in your path to their school. This may increase your chance of receiving a larger award package. 

Francesca Morrissey

Francesca Morrissey
Founder & College Consultant
Access Success LLC
There's no reason not to attempt a financial aid negotiation—and not just your first year of college. Your financial aid package is something you should negotiate year after year. Schools won't retract initial offers of aid because you've asked for reconsideration. The worst that can happen is being told no.

First, figure out what you may qualify for and who to contact. If your FAFSA calculated a very low estimated family contribution (EFC), ask your school’s financial aid office to explain the award in relation to your EFC, especially if they offered loans and not need-based grants and scholarships. They should also be your point of contact if your prior-year taxes don’t accurately reflect your current financial situation. Additionally, if you have a legitimate change of circumstances—unexpected medical expenses, a recent divorce, the death of a parent, unemployment, etc.—you should bring it to their attention. In these situations, you’ll fill out a specific form or write a letter to document whatever changes you're claiming. This typically requires providing the school with copies of your most recent tax returns as well as schedules, medical bills, EOBs, termination letters, etc. These appeals are best made by a parent, not by the student.

If your EFC is high and you don’t have a circumstance change, it may not be necessary to appeal to the financial aid office. Instead, appeal to the admission office, preferably to a representative you’ve been working with during the admission process. When requesting reconsideration for new or additional scholarships, it helps to provide reasons for why you deserve it. Detail any changes to your family's financial health and explain how you’ll contribute to the campus community. These sorts of appeals are met with greater success when initiated by you, not by your parent.

Appeals should always be typed and hand-mailed and should include your name as well as your student ID number. Mail your appeal no later than early April if you’re an incoming freshman and as soon as possible for upperclassmen. Take note of when you mail it, and if you don't receive a reply within seven to 10 days, follow up with a phone call. Most importantly, make your appeal before putting down any sort of deposit—tuition or housing! Once you make a deposit, the school has no incentive to negotiate as you already intend to enroll.

Need more advice on appealing and writing your letter? Check out our full article on How to Appeal Your College Financial Aid Package.

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