Colleges may negotiate aid packages - but not often
By Eric Dash, The New York Times
Sunday, January 7, 2007 -- At Carnegie Mellon, newly admitted students can play the financial aid version of "Let's Make a Deal."
The university will consider improving a financial aid package if a rival institution has offered more. In fact, it explains the negotiation process in its admissions material.
Here's unhappy news for strapped applicants elsewhere: most financial aid officers frown on the very word "negotiate" and insist, at least publicly, that they will not haggle over tuition price or raise their bid.
Colleges put together a package of government grants and loans and their own money to fill the gap between costs and what they have determined you are able to pay. As college-bound students will discover when their award letters arrive, the amount and kinds of aid vary from college to college. Colleges may interpret data a little differently, and applicants may supply inconsistent financial information. The most wiggle room is in any merit aid that comes from a college's own coffers. Some wind up chipping in more than others, depending on the depth of their pockets.
Most financial aid officials will reconsider your package, in what's called a professional judgment review, if you have new financial information or expect unusual circumstances to suck up family funds - say, a parent's sudden job loss, an expensive hospitalization or even a parent's enrollment in college. According to a 2001 survey of members by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, almost half of appeals resulted in increases in awards. But while 33 percent of institutions said they adjusted aid frequently or always because of new information submitted by the family, only 7 percent said they did so because the family felt it was not able to pay and only 2 percent because of aid offers from elsewhere.
So someone out there is negotiating.
Public universities have less flexibility, and selective colleges may have less reason to improve a package. But administrators and consultants say that less selective private colleges are more liberal about making adjustments, particularly those with lots of non-need-based aid to distribute. Depending on where you stand, they may adjust the mix of loans and grants.
Such decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Students who succeed in securing more aid generally have some leverage: a special talent or high scores as well as a competing offer from a rival school.
It may be worth a shot. Because the college cannot rescind admissions or aid offers, the worst thing anyone can say is no.
Timing Your Appeal
Getting a Hearing
Present your case by making three main points, Mr. Goodman says. First, how excited you are about attending the college. Next, how paying for college is a financial stretch, and third, how you have a more attractive aid package from another institution. Then ask if the college would reconsider its initial offer. Provide documentation of financial hardship and have available the letters from the other colleges in case you are asked about their offers. After that, it's up to the financial aid office to make its decision, which is final.
Negotiating for Other Things