Financial Aid; Can You Negotiate?

By: Daniel Kane


One of the most common questions parents and adult students ask is whether or not they can negotiate for an improved scholarship or financial aid package.

Because financial aid is governed by fairly complex regulations, a definitive answer to that question...an answer that applies to all students...is not possible.

It is true, however, that it may be possible to wind up with an improved scholarship or financial aid package after an exchange with an admissions or financial aid staff member.

Every student who applies for financial aid is required to fill out a free federal financial aid form (FAFSA) on which there are questions related to family assets and income. In some instances, colleges will also ask financial aid applicants to provide additional information on an institutional financial aid form.

It is the information therein collected that enables colleges to get a picture of a student's financial need. While not all aid requires financial need, federal grants and subsidized loans do. And, federal funds may not be used to award students dollars in excess of their demonstrated need.

Therefore, the only way to get an increase in the amount of federal aid offered to you in your initial financial aid award letter is to convince a financial aid officer that there has been a significant change in your financial standing since the submission of your FAFSA or that there are special circumstances not reflected in your FAFSA answers. If you can prove what you say, you will have a chance.

Colleges can be much more flexible with their own funds than they can with federal dollars. Many can and do offer academic, leadership and many other scholarships without regard to need. The Harvard's, Yale's, and Princeton's of the world seldom offer any funds not based on need, but they meet the full financial need of every student they enroll.

Many colleges, especially privates not in the highest tiers, have created well funded scholarship programs designed to help them enroll students who, without a scholarship as a difference maker, might choose a more selective or lower priced alternative. These colleges tend to be especially happy to offer no-need scholarships to students of high achievement and potential.

As a result, students bound for colleges in this category may have some luck in upping their financial aid package if they can point to other institutions which have offered them better packages or make a convincing case that the initial financial aid package presents a difficult financial challenge. These kinds of appeals should be made to an admissions counselor or to the Dean of Admissions.

Do not think of a request for more aid as a negotiation, and do not approach it as such. Instead, ask an admissions officer (counselor, director, or dean) for help...help that will enable the student to attend the college without creating severe hardship for his or her family. If you have a good case to make...if you can demonstrate that the financial aid package offered to you puts a college or university out of reach, you may well get the additional aid you need.

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Daniel Kane, a university Dean, has created and maintains websites on online colleges and online education degrees .
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