Right now you are anxiously waiting for those college award letters to arrive and trying to figure out how you are going to pay for everything.
Assuming you will be getting award letters from several schools, you do have one final card to play—negotiating a better offer.
Every year more parents are calling colleges across the country to negotiate an increase in financial aid. Many of them are receiving thousands of additional dollars in financial aid. To get more money from your favorite college, however, it’s critical that you know how the game is played.
Create your appeals plan
It is important that you start with a plan. Getting on the phone and trying to get the financial aid department to match another college’s award package is usually not enough. You also don’t want to seem overly anxious. Even if time is short, wait for about a week before you make the call.
Remember the etiquette in negotiating a better financial aid package
Most colleges claim they don’t negotiate so you should never enter a conversation as if you were trying to make a deal at your local auto dealership. As far as the financial aid department is concerned, you are appealing to them for more financial aid, not negotiating with them. They may also request that you must fill out some forms before they are willing to hear your appeal. This will not jeopardize your chances for increased aid.
Only talk to the person in charge of financial aid
When you have your plan in place, only talk to the financial aid administrator, not with aides in the financial aid office. Secretaries and aides are trained to say “no” and are not authorized to increase your financial aid. Financial aid administrators are able to use their individual discretion and are the only ones you should talk to.
Show an appreciation for the person in charge
Let the financial aid administrator know your appreciation for what they do and how difficult their job must be for them. Sincerity is important here so if you don’t mean it, don’t say it. If they think you are only trying to take advantage of them or manipulate them, you may come up empty handed. If you treat them with respect, however, they will be ready to help you in return.
Explain why your student loves the college
It’s important that you also be specific here. You must demonstrate a real interest in the college as you explain exactly why it is your student’s first choice. Next, review the reasons why you believe your student is also a good fit for the college. Your reasons must be based on facts such as their continuous improvement in grades and test scores. Their athletic, music, or other unique abilities along with any awards they recently received are other things you can mention.
Mention any changes in life circumstances
There may be many other valid reasons to appeal your award letter. A recent change in circumstances such as a divorce, a job loss, or an aging grandparent who requires your care will strengthen your case. Finally, be prepared to document everything before you get a final decision.
Mention the better deal you got from your second choice school
Unless this is the only card you have to play, save it for last. If you mention the better offer you got at another comparable college too soon or if you make your appeal sound like “let’s make a deal”, all you may get for your effort is a recommendation from the financial aid officer that you should take the other offer.
Better to try and fail than not to try at all
It’s important to remember that school enrollment numbers are down. Many colleges are desperate to fill their empty class-rooms and may be quite happy to come up with a few thousand additional dollars in financial aid to get your student enrolled into their college. We always advise parents to go for it! You may be surprised at the results you get!
One final word of advice. Don’t start with an email. Pick up the phone and make the call. In our experience, a phone call usually gets better results.