Skip to main content

Within Reach home

How to negotiate your financial aid package: Advice from a paying-for-college expert

College • February 19, 2019 • Reyna Gobel

What you’ll learn

  • How to compare financial aid award letters
  • How scholarships affect financial aid
  • How to communicate with the financial aid office

When your top-choice school isn’t the one that offers you the most money, you might think you need to settle for second best. But before you do, here’s how you can try to get more financial aid from your number one school.

Make sure you know what you’re asking for

You can’t ask a school for more financial aid if you don’t understand what you’re already eligible for—so make sure you’re prepared for the conversation. Before negotiating, create a spreadsheet that compares what you’ve been offered from the schools you were accepted to. This information can be found on the financial aid award letters sent to you by each school.

Make sure you know whether any scholarships you’ve received from somewhere other than the college will be deducted from your overall financial aid award package. Yes, some schools deduct financial aid if you’ve already received outside scholarships. For example, if you were offered $7,000 in scholarships from the school, but then you received $3,000 in private or community scholarships, the school might only offer you $4,000. If you’re not sure how outside scholarships affect your financial aid, just call the financial aid office and ask.

Find out which aid is renewable (you can be eligible every year). A school that offers you $5,000 each year for four years is, generally, giving you a better deal than a school that gives you $10,000 for just your freshman year.

Now that you have all the data, subtract financial aid offers from the total cost of attendance, including the cost of books, supplies, and transportation, at each of the schools you’re considering. This is the number you need for comparison and for negotiation.

Call the financial aid office to plan your next steps

This call is about gathering more information.

First, ask if there are any other scholarships through the college you could apply for. Then you can ask about the process of appealing for more financial aid. Ask what forms you’ll need to fill out and what the deadlines are.

Continue the negotiation with a letter

The financial aid office will probably ask you to write a letter and mail it to the school.

Inform them of any financial changes that have happened since you filed the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), like a change in parent income. The financial aid office will ask you to fill out a special circumstances form and supply some supporting documents.

You can also mention financial aid offers you’ve received from other schools. Let them know that other schools are offering you more money, if that’s the case, but this school is your first choice.

Call back to follow up if you haven’t heard back after two weeks.

It’s worth a shot

Even after going through these steps, you might not receive additional aid. But you’ll have a better shot as long as you prepare, know exactly what you’re asking for, and follow all the right steps.

Reyna Gobel is a journalist, author, professional speaker, and educator who's been quoted by Money Magazine, Real Simple, and The Washington Post. She’s spoken at hundreds of colleges across the country about student debt—and she’s the author of "CliffsNotes Graduation Debt" and “CliffsNotes Parents’ Guide to Paying for College and Repaying Student Loans.” Reyna was compensated for this article.

Within Reach home

Reyna Gobel was compensated by Sallie Mae for the content in this article. However, all opinions expressed are her own.

Sallie Mae does not provide financial, tax, or legal advice and the information contained in this article does not constitute tax, legal, or financial advice. Sallie Mae does not make any claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in this article. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax advisors regarding any financial strategies mentioned in this article. These materials are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of Sallie Mae.