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How to Negotiate Financial Aid and Get More Money

What’s Covered:


So you got accepted to your dream school…but you can’t afford to attend. This is unfortunately the case for many students each spring, but luckily your first financial aid offer does not have to be the final price. If you’re not happy with your financial aid offer, you can negotiate or appeal it.


Here are the situations where schools are likely to negotiate and the steps you need to take to get more aid.


When Can You Negotiate Financial Aid?


You need to have a pretty good reason to appeal your financial aid award. Here are the three main scenarios where colleges are most willing to negotiate. 


1. Changing financial circumstances


Life happens, and sometimes your family is no longer able to pay what it thought it could. Colleges may reconsider your award in the following situations:


  • Investment losses
  • Losing a job
  • Losing income at a job due to a pay cut or reduced hours
  • Divorce or separation
  • Change in out of pocket expenses (healthcare, childcare, family support, or natural disasters)


If any of these circumstances apply, you will need to show supporting documentation. Colleges will let you know which documents they might need after you contact them.


2. Getting better offers


Another powerful tool to appeal your existing offer is with your other acceptances and financial aid letters. Colleges are responsive to two types of offers:


  • A better financial aid offer or price at a school with comparable ranking
  • Acceptance to a university with a higher ranking


3. Achieving something major (merit aid) 


If your school offers merit aid, you may be able to receive more if you’ve accomplished something significant since your application. This includes winning a state title, becoming valedictorian, or getting accepted to a prestigious summer program.


Steps to Negotiate Financial Aid


1. Pick a final price


Before you begin negotiating, it’s important you are clear on the price you want to receive from the university. This will help you be more transparent with colleges and speed up the process.


To determine this price, you should consider both your changing financial circumstances as well as your other offers. Keep in mind that highly selective colleges (the top 30 in the U.S. News rankings) only negotiate on the basis of financial circumstances.


If you have an offer from a comparably ranked school, you can use that amount as a guide. For example, if you have a $20,000 net price from #87 you can ask for a similar net price from #93.

If you instead are using an acceptance from a much stronger school as a comparison, asking for more than a $15,000 per year discount is very rarely successful. The sweet spot is to ask for a discount between $5,000 and $10,000 (which still adds up to $20,000-40,000 over four years).


2. Figure out the process for negotiating/appealing financial aid.


Most schools have a process to appeal financial aid. You may need to set up a call, fill out a form, or submit an email or actual letter. Do some research online to see what the school expects, and call the financial aid office if you can’t find official guidelines. Your appeal is most likely to be successful if you follow your college’s protocols. 


If your school negotiates by phone, ask a parent to be on the call with you. They can help if you’re asked anything about your financial situation that you don’t know yourself.


3. Gather all your documentation.


If you’re appealing due to a change in finances or a better offer, you’ll need proper documentation. This includes things like:


  • CSS profile (if applicable)
  • Proof of new major expenses (like medical bills)
  • Documentation of a parent’s job loss
  • Financial statements
  • Competing award letters from other colleges


Having these on hand will make it easier for you to present your case. You will also probably need to send copies to the college for them to review your financial aid appeal.


4. Send your financial aid appeal letter.


Most schools will require a formal email or letter to begin the appeal process. In your letter, you should:


  • State your gratitude for the opportunity to attend and re-emphasize your fit with the school.
  • Explain why you need or deserve more aid. Give specific numbers and provide documentation upfront.
  • Update the school on any major accomplishments since your application.


We have a whole post on how to write a financial aid appeal letter, with examples. Take a look at that to get a better sense of what an effective letter looks like.


What if the School Won’t Budge?


Some colleges may not be willing to negotiate. Here are some ways to counter common responses colleges may have. 


If the college says “We don’t match offers”:


“I understand that. I’m just looking for you to review my other options and make sure that you take that into consideration as you holistically think about updating my offer.”


If the college doesn’t want to negotiate at all:


You should reiterate your passion for the school and ask them to reconsider even at a lower amount.


“I completely understand that this isn’t always part of your process, but [UNIVERSITY] is one of our top choices and every bit of additional aid helps, even if it isn’t the full amount that we’ve asked for. Is there any way you can talk to your team and your financial aid office to see if there’s anything at all that you can do?”


Keep in mind that you may not always get the answer you want, and that the school may continue to refuse to negotiate. That’s why we always recommend going into negotiations with a backup school, in case your appeal doesn’t go through.


Negotiating aid is intimidating, but you have nothing to lose! Colleges want to hear from students and address their concerns. Having an honest conversation about your aid package can only help you.


If you’re looking for more tips on appealing financial aid, join our free community forum on paying for college. There, you can talk to other students going through the same thing and share advice, as well as request free expert help.

Lily Fang
Content Manager

Short Bio
Lily Fang is the Content Manager at CollegeVine and an alum of Amherst College. In her spare time, she trains for marathons and blogs about sustainability, running, and travel.