Financial AidThe other day, a friend told me an interesting story. Her daughter had just gotten into her pick of colleges, but her top-choice school wasn't offering as much financial aid as the schools that were a bit lower on her list. So she was wondering – should she pick up the phone and called the financial aid office of School #1 and say: "I really want to come here, but the tuition is just too hard to swing. Can you do better?"

As a mom with her own high school senior in the house, this story got me thinking: Is negotiating with aid offices common? Does it really work? Over the past week, I reached out to some experts and learned that the answers to those questions are "it's hard to say," and "it depends."

If you and your child are looking at aid packages that are less than you had hoped for, here's what you need to know before you call the school to make a fuss.

Don't call it negotiation. "Colleges are not car dealerships," Mark Kantrowitz, creator of, likes to say. "This idea you can haggle is not all that accurate. Very few colleges do anything that way. Instead, it's very structured and policy-driven. In most cases, negotiation is professional judgment." Professional judgment refers to a process whereby a college can make adjustments to an aid package if unusual circumstances (a job loss mid-year, abnormally high medical costs, etc.) were not reflected on the FAFSA or aid application. If something severely impacted your income last year and the college does not know about it, you could be a candidate for consideration under this process.

Stick to the facts. It's also important to understand that "the entire [financial aid] process is driven by documentation," says Kantrowitz. If your financial situation has changed, the schools is "going to want copies of documentation: for a job loss, a copy of the pink slip, copy of the notice of unemployment benefits."

Peter Van Buskirk, founder of "The Admissions Game" program and former dean of admissions for Franklin & Marshall College, echoes this sentiment: "The appeal needs to be made from the basis of fact, not emotion," he says. "The parent that goes in full of fire and brimstone, nothing's going to happen there. If there's a reasonable presentation of information... and they can get this kid [to enroll] by making an adjustment, they'll reserve the right to make that judgment."

Reframe the conversation. If School #1 offered you $10,000 and School #2 offered you $20,000, don't wave the competing offer in the face of School #1. Instead, focus on dollar amounts so you're not bringing another school into the conversation. "Typically the notion of haggling is not well received," says Don Fraser, director of education and training at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. "If you say, 'I want to go here, could you offer me X amount of dollars,' that's the kind of conversation they're more willing to engage in."

Get rid of high expectations. Just about everyone I spoke with told me that there's no harm in calling a college and asking them if there's anything more they can do. However, the key is to be polite about it, and lose all visions of a $15,000 adjustment. "It can't hurt to have the conversation, but don't go into the conversation with high levels of expectation or entitlement, because that's off-putting," says Van Buskirk. "[Parents] can paint themselves in a corner by saying, 'My kid won't come unless....' And then the institution calls the bluff. It's important to resist the impulse to give into ultimatums."

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Way back in the dark ages (Jan. 1968), I had been accepted to the only college I'd applied to (early decision). They offered me zero scholarship, a small NDSL loan, and a work-study job, the sum of which were nowhere near what I needed to pay the (private school) tuition. I wrote a letter to the financial aid department and they responded with a small scholarship, about 1/5 of the annual tuition, which I ended up receiving for all four years. So it definitely paid to write the letter and be civil. (I still had to take an additional bank loan, though, in addition to the NY State Regents scholarship I received, in order to fully finance the yearly room and board costs.)

May 01 2012 at 5:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My parents are gunna pay for my college anyway. I'm home schooled now. Thanks.


May 01 2012 at 1:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Haggling with Universities is bad form. If they liked compelling sales, they would push used cars or life insurance and wear crisp pimp suits.

April 30 2012 at 8:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think that the stigma of college vs no college is no longer important since so many college graduates can not find employment in "their field" after graduation, and after "forebearance ,( usually six months) they are faced with a large debt as a result of "Student Loans" ! There are many fields of employment that require less time in school , or a Trade School" certificate of completion where jobs are more readily available !

April 30 2012 at 12:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Remember this, If you never ask a question the answer will always be NO.

April 30 2012 at 12:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Try borrowing for a job that is worth more than the loan.... you know... why go in debt for 80,000 for a 40,000 / year job??? Rest assured that the Govt will be on your back for years to pay the loan.

April 30 2012 at 11:51 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cpo1514's comment

In this case, you would need to work for at least 3 years to make a substantial profit from the education.

But that is not counting the interest. With interest, depending on the rate and time of repayment, that 80,000 can become 90,000, 100,000 or more. In that case, the borrower needs to stay in the field for at least 5 years or more to gain a substantial profit from the education.

The borrower, if she stays in the field and prospers, will probably get between a 2 to 5% raise each year. Also, after 2 or 3 years experience, she can apply for and qualify for promotions that increase her salary.

April 30 2012 at 5:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to pjszymanski's comment

Also, the employer may be willing to pay for an advanced degree, certificate or additional relevant training.

April 30 2012 at 5:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

... providing the competences required are still valid and in demand. Otherwise, you go back to school.

April 30 2012 at 8:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

all this MESS is WHY millions did not want any bailouts /loans etc BACK in 2008-
it ALL should have CRASHED AND BURNED right down to welfare , etc for illegals and frauds.
mean ? NO.
realistic ? YES.
it's 2012 and with the "reset" button ON since 2008,things would be improving and all WITHOUT TRILLIONS IN DEBT and no end in sight.

April 30 2012 at 11:30 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

this is all laughable - it's a waste - you have "professors" who do nothing for 5 hours a week = get paid $400K a year to sit around and be jerks = starts in grade schools with the unions - teachers pay next to nothing for their retirement on and on - the unions elect democrats because they'll give them anything they ask for - and yet it's the republican's fault. give me a break. A lot of colleges don't have to charge ANYTHING they have so much money in endowments etc that they don't need the money they are charging. It's sad that people who are responsible have to pay and the ones that aren't get everything for free because they are "deserving"? What a crock.

April 30 2012 at 11:20 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to rickster's comment

n7monthsocrapleft...............................and THESE SAME BRAINDEAD MORONS go on and ON about what obummer INHERITED as in PROBLEMS--what kind of idiots has the USA raised and GIVEN AWAY THE VOTE TO ?
and WHY is the mediyuuh STILL IN BUSINESS ? they shillled 100% for him,NO QUESTIONS ASKED.
why is the GOP still standing ? another bunch of ENABLERS--where are OUR constitutional CONSERVATIVES ?

AS FOR THE OBUMMER_bots,make sure to ask THEM how's that hope and change stuff going and WHAT WAS THE PRICE OF A GALLON OF GAS when obummer was INSTALLED--THAT'S WHAT HE INHERITED--
and WHERE DOES RACE ENTER THIS PICTURE ?...unless you wanna call him RED like the old JOKE--what's black and white and RED (read) all over ???? no--not the newspaper--RED as in obummer.

April 30 2012 at 11:08 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Setanta's comment

Note that Obaminable inherited the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, finally got to him, and takes the credit for his execution. It is not Obaminus' fault this time.

April 30 2012 at 8:49 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Rather than try to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic we should be working to make college affordable and accessible for everyone who wants a college education. What we are seeing now is the corporate take over of education and a huge transfer of wealth to the top through student loans and debt.

April 30 2012 at 10:59 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to llozano's comment

college was NEVER MEANT to be for everyone and allowing EVERYONE to attend has only destroyed the meaning of a degree and turned these places into a glorified high school right down to the DISRUPTIVE PsOS wasting everyones' time as well.
what you are SEEING NOW IS the government take over of higher education, the SAME WAY THEY ARE ATTEMPTING to run/RUIN health care.
they already DESTROYED our basic educational system and now MUST HAVE IT ALL.

April 30 2012 at 11:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Setanta's comment

very well said

April 30 2012 at 11:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down