Attending college is an expensive proposition, ranking in investment second only to the purchase of a house. Depending on where your house is located, a college education can sometimes even exceed the price of a house.
Naturally, much planning needs to be done in advance. Setting up 529 plans or other savings vehicles cannot wait until the last minute. When you do get to those final moments, the last step is to negotiate.
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Not all schools will negotiate financial aid, but no school will negotiate financial aid if you don’t ask.
Large state schools are unlikely to negotiate except in extreme circumstances. Smaller, independent schools are more likely to be flexible.
As an undergraduate, I employed this strategy each year. My grades were not the best, but my aid would have been more appropriate for a far better student. Each year, schools have a set amount of funds to allocate to students as they wish.
I successfully negotiated my financial aid by being early to the table.
I attended a smaller private institution. Each year, I was amongst the first students to meet with the Director of Financial Aid. The conversation was always the same. He noted that I “did not do great last year.” Then I would promise, believing it to be true, that the coming year would be different.
After a bit of conversation on the why and how it would be different, I would be offered an aid package above what would have been appropriate for my circumstances.
There are two key points here. The first is the difference in being early, one of the first students to meet with the director. His pool of money probably seemed pretty big, as he was just starting to give it out.
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Friends with better grades who went to negotiate later fared worse, as the pool was smaller.
Those – like myself – who tried earlier had depleted the pool. He had no choice but to be stingier with those who came late to the table.
The second key point is asking. The worst that can happen is that you get a no. Or get laughed at. When my oldest son went to a large state school, there was no negotiation. There were tens of thousands of students, and the administration had to stick to the formula. What you get is what you get.
My daughter ended up going to a private school that gave her an aid package that covered nearly everything. One school she had been accepted at – her first choice out of those that accepted her – did not give her nearly as much. They were not, however, willing to negotiate. They laughed. At least, it seemed that way.
When it gets down to the end – decision time – there is no downside to asking for more aid.
The package a school proposes may be their final offer. Or it may not be. You will never know unless you ask.
And then ask again. Each year. If you are a great student, they may be willing to bend to keep you – the school’s reputation depends on the quality of their graduates.
Or, like me, you could be sitting across the desk from the person with the resources and be there when that pool still seems large. Don’t wait – negotiate.
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