The complete guide to a better financial aid offer

girl going to collegeHow do you close the gap between what you can afford, and what the college wants you to pay? In a word: negotiation. That doesn’t mean playing hardball or being manipulative. It does mean picking up the phone, and having a frank, open and honest discussion with your financial aid officer. Be prepared to state your case clearly, persuasively and politely.

The tips below represent years of hard won experience. Use them to help negotiate a better financial aid offer. And be nice! Remember, financial aid officers are people, too.


Negotiate with financial aid administrators only

Don’t negotiate with anyone other than a financial aid administrator. They are the only ones who can make a decision in your case. Secretaries and aides in financial aid offices are sometimes hired for their ability to say “no” with a particular level of conviction. If you need to practice your negotiation skills feel free to practice on a secretary. Just don’t expect any immediate, affirmative outcomes from such practice.

Share your appreciation of the complexity of the financial aid administrator’s job

Let the financial aid administrator know that you understand and appreciate how difficult his/her job really is. If they know that you are not trying to merely take advantage of them, they are more likely to respond to your needs.

Heroes are often hard to find these days but one thing is clear. If you are looking for true heroes, you will find them working in college financial aid offices across the nation. Day in, day out, perceptive, hard-working financial aid professionals make college degrees possible for deserving students. More than any other player in the college system, financial aid administrators are the architects of opportunity for our young people. We urge that you treat them with the respect they deserve.

Always send a hand-written note of thanks

student resourcesIf the financial aid administrator does anything that encourages you or that indicates he or she is willing to work with you, take the time to send the person a short, hand-written “thank you” note. Financial aid administrators rarely get these so they will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Eventually, they may even learn to associate your student’s social security number with your personal warmth. In the note, you should chronicle for the record any good news from the financial aid person in the event they forget. It pays to create an audit trail on good news and let bad news get lost in the overworked memory bank of the financial aid office.

Don’t forget to share your good news with people in high places. If a financial aid officer does something wonderful for you, send a letter to the college president praising the professionalism of that financial aid officer. The president is likely to send a congratulatory note along with a copy of your letter to the financial aid administrator, which may ensure continued good behavior on your behalf by that person for the duration of your student’s entire college career.

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Financial Aid Basics