Wait, what? Yes, you read the title correctly. You actually *can* negotiate your college tuition.
If only it were as simple as asking the colleges to lower the tuition for you. As silly as that may sound, it just might be.
If you’re wondering how to negotiate college tuition, these tips are for you.
Is College Tuition Negotiable?
The short answer is yes, college tuition is negotiable. Colleges don’t advertise this information publicly on their website, but savvy students like you know your worth, and can advocate for yourself to the financial aid office. You can negotiate your tuition by:
- Asking for a discount or additional scholarship
- Appealing a financial aid award
We will discuss these two ways in detail and the steps you can take to negotiate your college tuition.
Whichever way you choose, the first thing you’ll need to do is get organized. Nobody creates a convincing case by marching into the college’s financial aid office unannounced. Instead, come prepared with the relevant documents that will help make your request more legitimate. More on this later on in the post.
Part of getting organized is figuring out how much money you can afford to pay. For this, you’ll likely need to recruit your parents and figure out together what that number is. You’ll want to look at things like living expenses and consider any outside financial aid you’ve received, like scholarships or grants. This can help you figure out how much you’ll have left to pay on your own.
Another good idea is to see what tuition prices other students have been offered. If you know what other students have negotiated, you know the school may be able to offer you the same.
Option 1 – Asking For a Discount
Step 1 – Build Your Case
Why should the college lower your tuition? You may have several reasons:
- Financial need- Your family’s current financial situation may look very different than it did two years ago (which your FAFSA is based on.) This might be due to a sick family member or outstanding medical bills, unemployment, or a death in the family. Given the ongoing pandemic, many families are in a very different financial situation now than they were pre-COVID.
- Merit reasons- Do you excel in school or a sport? You may be able to use this to convince the college that you are worth their investment.
- Identifying as an independent- Is your family unable or unwilling to support you? The FAFSA requires your parents’ information but your financial aid office has the ability to label you as an independent. To do this, you’ll need a letter from a psychologist, religious leader, or other official explaining your family’s situation. Be aware that “being homeless or at risk of being homeless” IS a qualifying factor that can result in you being considered an independent student. If you are a student that “couch-surfs,” staying with various friends or family because you are not able to live with your family, then you can update your FAFSA to reflect that you meet this qualification.
Step 2 – Schedule a Meeting
After getting yourself organized and building your case, it’s time to schedule a meeting with a financial aid officer. To set up a meeting, contact your school’s financial aid office and identify the correct person to speak with. Write them a polite email asking if you can schedule a meeting either in-person or virtual to discuss your college tuition. Showing up to the financial aid office with no meeting scheduled is likely going to be a waste of time.
Step 3 – Be Confident
At the end of the day, you are a customer and the college wants your business. Have confidence in yourself that you are worthy of receiving an additional scholarship or discounted tuition.
Part of having confidence is knowing what you can offer the school. Do you have a good GPA or excel at a sport? Are you involved with extracurricular activities? If you can present yourself as well-rounded, you’re more likely to convince the college that you will be an asset to their student body.
Additionally, if you have financial need, or are independent, be confident in your case and why you deserve a discount.
Now that you are organized and have some confidence under your belt, let’s get to the nitty gritty of negotiating your college tuition – meeting with a financial aid officer.
Step 4 – Meet With a Financial Aid Officer
It’s time for the big day, your official meeting! If possible, attend the meeting with your parents. Put on a smile and come with a positive attitude. The financial aid officer will be much more willing to help you if you are respectful. Remember to act confident and deserving, but avoid coming across as entitled. We cannot stress this one enough.
Step 5 – Questions to Ask
Beyond straight-up asking for them to lower your tuition, you might also consider asking for flexible payment options:
- Can you pay on a monthly basis? Your family might not be able to pay for your college tuition all at once. But, can they afford to pay for your tuition month-to-month? You may be able to negotiate this.
- Can you pay upfront? On the other hand, if you are able to pay for your entire tuition upfront, you may also be able to get a discount.
Option 2 – Appeal a Financial Aid Award
The next way to lower your college tuition is by appealing a financial aid award. If the financial aid award you received isn’t enough, you can try to appeal it. If you aren’t sure how your financial aid award was calculated, read about that here. To appeal a financial aid award, first, call the financial aid office and ask them what the process is for requesting an appeal. Typically, there will be an official form that you’ll need to complete, and then you’ll also need to provide supporting evidence of why you feel your financial aid offer should be modified. Often, that “evidence” will include either a personal statement or a letter explaining your situation. You can see a sample letter below.
In the letter, explain why you need more financial aid. As we stated earlier, there can be several reasons for this, including both needs-based reasons and merit-based reasons. Perhaps you received better offers from other schools or experienced a loss in the family. Whatever it is, include it in the letter.
Attach all documents you have that support your appeal to the letter. These may include your family’s bank statements, which show a change in finances, or your school transcripts which show your academic achievements.
Keep your letter or personal statement short and to the point. Make it clear why you need or deserve additional support based on your situation.
Include All Information You Can Think of
Don’t leave anything out of your appeal letter. Are you a student from an underserved community? Do you have a disability? Are your parents going through a divorce? Is there another event that’s had a negative impact on you? These are all things that can further support your argument and you’ll want to include this information in your letter.
Use Offers From Other Schools
You can use financial aid awards you’ve received from other schools as leverage to convince a college to lower their tuition for you. Make sure to attach the awards to your letter. You can ask the college you are hoping to attend to match the offer you received from a more affordable school. Give reasons why you’d rather attend their college instead of the more affordable school. Stress that they are your number one school but that price is a barrier to attending their college. Show your commitment and desire to go to their college. This strategy will be most successful with private universities, but you can also try it with public universities.
Be realistic with what you can afford to pay. Many financial aid officers will want to help you, but likely won’t be able to give you a full ride. Decide with your family how important price is in your decision. If it’s the most important factor (remember, graduating thousands of dollars in debt isn’t fun), then choose a school that is more generous with financial aid or try your luck at one of these full-ride scholarships.
Make Your Letter Personal
If you are writing appeal letters to multiple colleges, make sure that you personalize them. What is it about that college that you really like? Be specific and avoid writing a generic-sounding letter that could have been sent to multiple colleges.
Don’t Give Up!
If the college turns down your request the first time around, try negotiating again after a semester of school. They may change their mind if they have extra space, or if you can show how much you’ve accomplished since then.
Ask About Other Financial Aid Options
If you haven’t been successful with your requests, not all hope is lost. There are a lot of different ways to pay for college, including thousands of scholarships on the ScholarshipOwl platform! Look into federal work-study or simply get a part-time job. Check out “side hustle” opportunities that can supplement your income, such as driving for a ride-sharing or food delivery company.
Finally, although not ideal, loans can also help you pay for school as a last resort.
To help you with your financial aid appeal letter, here is a sample appeal letter you can use as a template.
Sample Appeal Letter
Dear Mrs. Samson,
My name is Dan Coolidge and I am a senior at Carlisle High School in Carlisle. I am so excited that you accepted me to be a student at the University of Iowa in the incoming class.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dreaming of this moment since I first visited my brother at the University of Iowa two years ago. I would love nothing more than to join him on campus and cheer on our football team together.
I have worked extremely hard during high school, as is evident by my transcripts, which I’ve attached to this letter. I am even starting off college with some credits, thanks to my scores on my AP history and AP calculus exams.
[Use this paragraph to list valid reasons for a discount – in this example we’ll use unemployment of a parent, but make it unique to your situation] Unfortunately, my family’s financial situation took a major blow this year. Unfortunately, my father lost his job in October this year. This has greatly impacted my family’s finances and of course, our ability to afford both mine and my brother’s college tuition at the same time.
I received an attractive scholarship from Drake University for $4,000 per year as well as a $3,000 scholarship from Briarcliff University. I have attached those awards for you to see.
That being said, I would still like to attend the University of Iowa where I plan to major in finance. I have heard that you have a great program. I hope to learn a lot in the program and one day pursue my MBA.
I am writing this letter to ask you to consider lowering my college tuition. I am falling short by $3,000. I am so grateful to be accepted to the University of Iowa and really hope to be able to enroll in the upcoming school year.
Please let me know if I can provide you with additional information.