Can I Negotiate My Financial Aid Offer?

Inform the school's financial aid office about changes in your ability to pay for college.


Many students and their families are unaware that financial aid packages are generally not set in stone. If circumstances change, or if the package is significantly less than expected, there are things that can be done to help increase the award. This week's question from Matthew H. in Richmond, Va. tackles the issue of how to appeal for more money to pay for college.

Q: My parents were just laid off and I'm worried that my financial aid package won't be sufficient for me and my family to cover my college costs. Can I negotiate with schools to increase my package, and how would I go about that?

A: Colleges won't know unless you tell them!

Don Fraser, Jr., director of education and training, National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) If your family has experienced even the slightest downturn in its financial situation, then the first thing that you should do is plan to call the financial aid office of any of the colleges from which you received financial aid packages. I suggest scripting your conversation or preparing notes so that you are articulate when you call.

Next, make the call. Identify yourself and ask to speak to your financial aid counselor. Explain your situation, let them know that you would like their school to be an option, and ask to be considered for additional aid. They'll take it from there.

[Consider taking these 6 steps to increase your financial aid.]

A: Financial aid officers want to help you. Talk to them.

Ralph Figueroa, director of college guidance, Albuquerque Academy Changes in financial circumstances can happen to anyone. Don't panic. Contact financial aid offices immediately and ask to speak to the officer evaluating your file. Financial aid officers are good people who really want to help you any way they can. Be direct and honest, and be prepared to provide documentation such as layoff notices.

Financial aid is given out according to set rules, with some discretion. So, be prepared to choose a different college or make alternate plans if the finances will not work out for you this year. Maybe even consider taking a gap year and applying again.

A: Communicate immediately and directly, and understand that institutions may respond differently.

Nancy Meislahn, dean of admissions and financial aid, Wesleyan University As situations change, you should be in contact with each financial aid office to learn what may impact your application given institutional policies. For some schools deadlines may be critical. There may be differences between schools with merit vs. need-based aid. Ask what documentation you need for an updated review of your aid package.

The timing of your parents' unemployment (and benefits) may be a factor—for example, you may be asked to wait a number of months until you can file an appeal depending on severance and potential re-employment. Don't be shy or embarrassed: Financial aid counselors want to understand your situation and respond to the extent they can with the resources available.

[Get 5 hints to compare financial aid award letters.]

A: Current college students can have the same problem.

Eric Furda, dean of admissions, University of Pennsylvania Any change in a family's financial standing, even for currently enrolled students, should be communicated in writing to an institution's financial aid office. Although the change may not immediately impact your financial need, getting the change of circumstances on the financial aid office's radar can help them with counseling you on alternative payment or financing options, while also alerting them to the need for a re-evaluation of your family's financial need.

Financial aid officers will understand that unforeseen circumstances arise and will do their best, within institutional resources, to be responsive to your change of circumstances. Their response may take the form of additional grants/scholarships, work-study or jobs on campus, loans, or other financing options.

Visit the Unigo Expert Network to see how 35 other experts feel about appealing financial aid offers and to have your own questions answered.