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How to Ask for More Money From Your Student Aid Office: Without Seeming Entitled

May 19, 2014 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Most families consider their college’s first offer of financial aid to be their final offer. However, it’s becoming more common for students and families to go back and ask for more. This is likely at least partially driven by real financial need, given the exponentially-rising cost of college and the fact that the average family’s salary is not keeping up, not to mention the underwater mortgages, falling salaries, and heightened unemployment that many families have had to deal with in the wake of the 2008 recession. 

However, the average financial aid officer may not see it that way. Whether or not you really feel that you need the money, the last thing you want is to seem entitled to the people who control the purse strings. Here are a few things you can do to keep from sabotaging your own request.

Don’t call it a renegotiation

Most financial aid officers don’t like this term. They don’t like the idea that parents and students believe their aid offers are up for negotiation, or picturing themselves like used car salesmen offering the highest possible price in the hopes of meeting in the middle.

Have a real, concrete reason, and document it

Across the board, you are much more likely to have your request for reconsideration granted if your family has had a change in financial circumstances. Situations that could be successful in demonstrating that change include:

  • Loss of a job or a major reduction in income
  • New and unexpected medical expenses
  • The death or disability of a family wage-earner
  • Nursing home expenses
  • Loss of property or income due to a natural disaster
  • Changes in college tuition for other family members
  • Major changes in parent or student debt loads
  • Mistakes in the original student aid application

It’s best to start your appeal after a change has happened—not in anticipation of one. Document everything carefully, and present your appeal in writing. Talk to a financial aid officer to get precise directions on what to include as proof for your specific situation.

Ask for a match

If you received a much better offer from a different school, ask the school you want to attend if they will match that aid.  Cornell, for example, will match your financial aid offer from Duke, Stanford, or MIT. Carnegie Mellon is also willing to match financial aid from other schools under certain circumstances. Other schools may offer the same deal, but don’t publicize it.

Asking for one college to match another’s financial aid package can be tricky, however. Some colleges—like Cornell—will only match financial aid packages from schools of similar stature. If you are receiving merit aid from the second school and your first choice school does not offer that type of aid, they may not be able to match the second school’s offer—and may be annoyed that you asked.

Know whether you’re the settler or the reacher

Sometimes, your college will be more willing to renegotiate your aid if they’re more keen on keeping you. In the relationship between student and college, one is often a reacher and one is a settler. If the college is the reacher—and the student is on the high end of the curve when it comes to grades, test scores, and other things that will help the college improve its rankings—they may be more likely to increase financial aid. If the student is the reacher—and they’re on the lower or middle end of the student body as a whole for grades, test scores, and other qualifying factors—the college financial aid office may be less likely to comply.

In other words, knowing the average SAT scores and other factors that the college looks for in admissions—and where you fall on that spectrum—can give you a clue on how much leverage you have in these discussions.

Apply yourself—don’t ask your parents to do it

If you are a traditional student, it can be tempting to let your parents handle the appeal process—and it can also be hard to stop them from trying. But if you can, it’s better to do it yourself. Many financial aid officers would rather see a student taking initiative than deal with parents, who may be more likely to be perceived as pushy and entitled.

Ask for something specific

Sometimes you may not be able to get a reduction in overall tuition—but you can get an increase to specific aspects of your aid. For instance, if you live across the country from the school you attend, you may be able to negotiate an increased travel allowance so you can afford to go home on the holidays.

Getting more financial aid from your traditional or accredited online college isn’t easy—many financial aid officers are under pressure to get the balance of awards and tuition money just right, and are not that likely to welcome a request to renegotiate. However, it may be possible to ask the financial aid office to reconsider—especially if you’re a top-tier student, or if you have a documented and legitimate reason for asking for a different aid package. Either of these conditions will make you more likely to succeed—but it’s worth trying, even if you don’t.


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