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How To Negotiate Your Financial Aid Offer

Not happy with your financial aid package? You can appeal. Here’s what you need to know about negotiating financial aid to get additional funds for college.

When you apply to college, chances are that you’ve filled out applications for financial aid. Perhaps you’ve even filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The information you provide on this form goes to your college admissions office and financial aid office. Using this information, you might be given a financial aid offer.

But what happens when you think that you should receive additional financial aid? If you’re not happy with your financial aid package, you can appeal. Here’s what you need to know about negotiating financial aid to get additional aid to help you cover your college costs.

Understanding your financial aid appeal

First, you need to understand your goals when appealing a financial aid award letter. For the most part, you aren’t talking about academic merit, GPA or test scores when attempting to negotiate your eligibility for additional aid.

Generally speaking, your chances of success in completing a successful appeals process will be better if you focus on the idea that your financial circumstances warrant a better financial aid package than what you were offered.

You might want to increase the state grant aid you receive or appeal for a need-based scholarship in an effort to reduce the student loan portion of your financial aid package. You might even want to point out that the cost of attendance is prohibitive to you unless you get a different outcome.

Negotiating financial aid: 3 steps to take

As you approach your school’s financial aid office with your appeal, there are three steps to take.

1. Get organized

Start by reviewing all of your financial aid award letters. Organize your offers by school, putting your first choice at the top of the list. Figure out the cost of attendance and then list what merit aid you have in addition to need-based aid. Look at what’s left after grants and scholarships and how much student loans figure into the packages.

Once you have that information, it’s time to prove that your financial situation is such that you can’t meet the obligation that remains. Make a phone call to each financial aid office to find out what documentation it requires to make an appeal.

Organize that information according to your schools. Don’t forget to write out special circumstances that might influence the enrollment and financial aid offices.

After you have everything you need you can move forward.

2. Write your financial aid appeal letter

Next, write your financial aid appeal letter. You can use supporting documentation to illustrate why the expected family contribution (EFC) might be inaccurate due to your financial circumstances. Make sure to include issues such as medical bills, the pandemic, job loss and other problems that might be keeping you from meeting the EFC.

If your parents are in worse circumstances due to unexpected financial hardship, that can also produce an adjustment to your financial aid package.

Make sure your financial aid appeal letter focuses on the need-based aspects of your situation and illustrates why the current aid package is insufficient.

As you write, don’t forget to be realistic about the situation. While you might be able to get more financial aid help in the form of need-based scholarships and grants, you might not get enough to completely cover your college costs. You might still need student loans — but a successfully completed appeals process would mean less overall debt.

3. Review your other financial aid options

While negotiating financial aid with the school, don’t forget to consider other options. You might be able to find merit scholarships from civic organizations or other sources. This merit aid can augment your need-based package and reduce your reliance on student loans.

Don’t forget about other federal aid that comes after you’ve filled out your FAFSA. You might be eligible for work-study, which would guarantee you a certain amount of income for hours worked to help you pay your college costs.

As you go through the appeals process, you’ll have the opportunity to figure out whether there are other options that can provide you with a little extra leverage. You might even be able to get some help by letting other admissions offices know that you’re considering different schools.

What about private student loans?

In some cases, your financial aid package — consisting of grants, scholarships and federal student loans — isn’t enough to cover your costs. Even if you were successful in negotiating additional financial aid, you might be stuck with a college funding gap. In this case, private student loans might be helpful.

You might be able to get a lower interest rate with private student loans than with federal loans, especially if you don’t qualify for subsidized loans. Juno can help you negotiate lower rates on student loans, giving you a better deal and lowering the overall cost of your education.

However, in order to qualify for private loans, you need to meet income and credit requirements. As a result, it can make sense to get a co-signer who can help you qualify.

Bottom line

Paying for college can be a challenging task, especially as you navigate the financial aid landscape. For the most part, your financial aid package is based on the information in your FAFSA, and schools and states use that information to provide you with an award letter.

If you aren’t happy with the presented package, you can appeal it, pointing out that there are special financial circumstances that aren’t reflected in your FAFSA or other information. This can result in an updated offer that works better with your finances.

However, there’s no guarantee that your appeal will be successful. Plus, even with a successful appeal, you might still have a college funding gap. As a result, it’s important to look for merit scholarships, check your savings, consider work-study and research private student loans to see if you can get the money you need to pay for college.

Miranda Marquit

Written By

Miranda Marquit

Miranda has 10+ years of experience covering financial markets for various online and offline publications, including contributions to Marketwatch, NPR, Forbes, FOX Business, Yahoo Finance, and The Hill. She is the co-host of the Money Tree Investing podcast and she has a Master of Arts in Journalism from Syracuse University


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