Closed Mouths Don’t Get Fed: Negotiate Your Financial Aid Package

April 4, 2019
Maya Mundell

Below is an email highlighting the potential power of simply asking for more financial aid from your college or university.  After being accepted into a masters degree program at the University of Chicago, I emailed the program director and asked him if it was possible that the university could provide me with more funding. Although the institution was generous enough to award me with half tuition, I wasn’t sure if taking out a $45,000 loan for that particular program would be the best move for me. So I’d figured I’d try asking for more aid to see what happens.

This was the university’s response… Dear Ms. Mundell, Congratulations on your admission to MAPSS!  We were very impressed by your performance at Cornell, by the unusual interest of the questions you outlined in your statement, and by the superlative letter you earned from Mary Crawd.  Our program has historically done extremely well with field-switchers like yourself, transitioning from Near Eastern Studies to the graduate literatures in Anthropology.  And as you recognize, we have some outstanding Anthro faculty who share many of your research interests, including Stephen Palmie. Although it would ordinarily be impossible to increase your award – with full tuition the only higher grant, something we award to just the top 5% of our entering students – there may yet be a possibility of doing so, by drawing on a special fund restricted to University-designated applicants.   Those funds are also distributed on an exceptionally competitive basis, but I would be prepared to lobby the Dean on your behalf.  If you happen to have received any competing funded offers, please forward them as they will help me make my case. I realize that you have some difficult choices ahead, and I would be happy to talk about them with you.  Please feel free to give me a call in the office any day this week.  My number is listed below.   Name changed for confidentiality   Unfortunately, when it was all said and done, I wasn’t given an increased award. But the opportunity to get more financial aid was there. The point is that if I hadn’t asked in the first place, it would have been impossible to increase my award. Asking is key. Trying is the key.   No, you probably won’t win every financial aid negotiation or scholarship. But you must know that consistently asking about and looking for student funding opportunities will increase your chances of actually getting money for your education. The email above shows only one example of the many financial aid negotiations and appeals that I’ve had. I negotiated financial aid packages for the whole four years I spent as an undergrad. Along the way, my failures and successes in negotiating my financial aid offers have taught me a huge deal about how to effectively increase my aid. Here’s what I’ve learned about improving chances of increasing aid with negotiating…

Leverage other financial aid offers. The email portrays a key tool in negotiating a financial aid award, use other offers as bargaining chips to get more aid. Displaying a generous offer from another university can potentially lead your target university to give you more aid.

Don’t be intimidated by a rejected request for more aid. Yes, they might have said “no.” But that just means no for now . Don’t give up. Try and ask again later. Never take “no” for an answer. Persistence is crucial. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked for more aid.

Keep your grades high. You don’t want your college or university to have any reason not to give you more aid. Sometimes universities will withhold funding from a student with poor academic performance. Plus, there might be merit scholarships available at your university and merit scholarships require above average grades.

Stay involved on campus or in your community. The more value you add to others’ lives, the more inclined the university or financial aid committee (or anyone, really) will be to help you out financially. Universities usually don’t go out of their way to give money to students who don’t add value or contribute to their communities in some positive way or another.

If the financial aid office isn’t able to help, ask about alternative sources of funding and other ways that the university can help you afford your studies. You never know what kind of funding is out there for you. Many scholarships are awarded like how many jobs are offered—by someone advocating for you to the people who have the last say on which students the scholarship. Just like many people get jobs through word of mouth, many students get scholarships and other types of funding that were never advertised to the public.

Try not to get emotional or angry while discussing financial aid with your university’s representatives. I’ve seen friends break down and cry in the financial aid office while trying to get more aid— this hardly ever results in positive results. I know that these financial barriers to getting an education can make you feel powerless or trapped but try your best to keep your cool and always know that there are other ways to work around this problem. You’ll be fine. You have plenty of options; you just might not see all of them yet. Be patient and keep your eyes open.

Make sure you communicate and highlight any rough financial circumstances that you and your family are enduring. Highlighting any financial hardships in your applications, appeals, and meetings requesting more aid is helpful. Supporting documents like medical bills, W-2 forms, and income tax forms to prove the financial hardship will all help to strengthen your case.

High school students construct the strongest application possible. College students, construct the strongest financial aid appeal possible. Both types of students can accomplish this by highlighting any special skills, talents, experiences, or just anyway you plan to provide value to the university. Universities will often offer more aid to students who are expected to bring special value to their campuses. Universities will also provide substantial financial help for students who’ve managed to make obtaining a higher education a priority despite facing significant adversity and struggle. So show them how hard you’ve worked to get where you are.

Always remember that the more the university wants you, the more they will pay for you to attend or stay registered – so make them want you. Sell your uniqueness, highlight all of the different ways you plan to serve and add value to your campus and fellow students. A university isn’t usually going to fight for a student who appears to be unenthusiastic about attending or a student that doesn’t seem to have the grit to complete—stand out and they’ll have an even bigger reason to get you and keep you on their campus.   Click the image below to join the Student Debt Prevention Movement and get your free “Be Free After Graduation” PDF guide!