Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate!


IF you are a high school Senior planning on going to college this Fall, you should be focusing on doing this RIGHT NOW! Can you imagine getting EVEN MORE FREE $$$ by simply asking?

As per my new #1 Amazon best-seller book, “Pay for College Without Going Broke”:

“The negotiation process is an often overlooked and underappreciated part of the college process. Schools are available and willing to discuss their offers with you. There are, at times, mistakes made, things overlooked, or circumstances that need to be explained. This is your opportunity to have a voice. The relatively small investment of time on your part could reap large rewards—even more free money.”

I have a complete chapter on how to effectively negotiate (or “appeal”) in the book. Here are some excerpts from that Chapter. Read more below, get started and GOOD LUCK!

Presented below is what I call my recommended “talking points” negotiation template. This can be ultimately put in the form of a letter.



Thank you for your recent financial aid award letter and generous award. [College name] is [student’s name’s] #1 choice—their dream school! [Add personal reasons why this school in particular is #1] However, we are confused and concerned about the amount of aid provided and how we can afford to have [student’s name] attend your great school.

If our calculations are correct, we would have to pay and/ or borrow about [$XXX] per year [the true cost from the college cost comparison sheet], or about [$XXX] [the true cost for one year multiplied by four] over four years—a lot of money, and we frankly do not know how we can afford it. Could you please help us?

Optional points:

  • If need-based aid

As per the U.S. Department of Education, “financial need” = “cost of attendance” – “Student Aid Index” (SAI). Therefore, our assumption was that if we have need,
we would get help equal to that. Per our calculations, [student’s name’s] financial need is [$XXX] (based on cost at [college name] [$XXX] [total “sticker price” from college cost comparison sheet] – our SAI of [$XXX] ). However, as per your award letter, we received only [$XXX] [the amount of free money awarded by the school from the college cost comparison sheet]—a difference of [$XXX]!

  • “Average” award

Further, per, the “average freshman award” at [college name] is [$XXX] [get that amount from website]. We only received [$XXX]—a difference of [$XXX]. We may be biased, but we feel our son/daughter is at least average—therefore, we expected more.

  • Other schools

Also, we can go to other schools for less. For example, [student’s name] can go to [School Y] for [$XXX], [School Z]…[true costs from other schools on college cost comparison sheet]. As parents that must pay the bills, these differences add up to a lots of money—especially over four years!

  • Special circumstances (sob story) examples
    ❍ Financial (lost job, catastrophe, etc.)
    ❍ Other children in college/grad school
    ❍ Other children going to college in future
    ❍ Multiple residences due to work


Thank you for your consideration. Anything you can do to help us make this financial decision easier, plus allow us to let [student’s name] attend their #1 choice would be greatly appreciated.

Please feel to contact me directly if I can answer any questions or be of any assistance.


[Signed parent’s name]

Key points about the template

This template should cover most situations. Simply use the points that are applicable to you:

  • The introduction is focusing on “I need your help as I am confused by the amount of award,” avoiding using the words “negotiate” or “appeal.”
  • If you are eligible for need-based aid, use that section; if not, simply skip that point.
  • The “sob story” section is where you get to add your personalized situation. I have provided a couple of typical scenarios as examples.
  • The summary is once again focused on “I need your help”—just like the introduction.

Negotiation strategies

Here is an overview of our recommended negotiation process:

  • When all acceptance letters and financial aid packages are received, complete a college cost comparison worksheet to give an indication of the “true cost” to attend each college.
  • Be proactive.
  • Personalize and customize the “talking points” template to your own unique situation.
    Ideally, approach the financial aid office directly and request a face-to-face meeting ASAP:
  • Memorize your “talking points”—be prepared.
  • Insist on speaking with someone in authority. Don’t be satisfied until you have spoken to the head of department. If you are not satisfied, be persistent.
  • Be respectful and courteous—you are seeking help, not fighting a battle.
  • Avoid words like “negotiate,” “appeal,” etc. You are confused by their offer and seeking help.
    The alternative is to convert your “talking points” into a letter requesting help:
  • The “talking points” are organized as paragraphs of a letter—just follow the order presented.
  • Address the letter to:

– The person’s name on the financial aid award letter from the college’s financial aid department.
– If no name is given, look up the head of the financial aid department in that college and address the letter to that person.
– In the reference line, put the student’s name and either the college ID number (if supplied) or the social security number.

  • Fax the letter directly and call the financial aid office to request a telephone meeting ASAP to discuss the contents.
  • Less desirable is to proactively fax the letter (with an email and/or snail mail backup) and request feedback.

If you are not happy or satisfied with the initial response, I recommend escalating it to “a supervisor” or ultimately to the head of the financial aid department, if necessary. You want to get a definitive final answer so you can make the “right” school decision.

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