Bargaining for Better Aid

I have heard that one can bargain with the colleges for a better financial aid package. Is this only for the first year, or can you come to an agreement for the four years?

--A Parent Soup member

Bruce Hammond

Bruce Hammond is an expert on college prep, applications and cost, and author of Discounts and Deals at the Nation's 360 Best Colleges and... Read more

You can negotiate in some instances, though the media has exaggerated exactly how much leeway there is. Colleges have the discretion to negotiate only with their own money. Since most public colleges distribute mainly federal aid, there is generally little to be done there. The potential for bargaining is generally better at the highly selective (and expensive) private colleges.

What the press calls "bargaining" usually amounts to asking if a college will match an offer from another comparable institution. Some will, and some will not, hinging partly on the strength of the applicant's credentials. Since need-based aid depends on refiling aid forms every year, there is a limit to how much of a guarantee you can get for all four years. Most colleges say they will fund you at the same level the following year if your need stays the same, though it is standard procedure (written into federal rules) to give upperclassmen more loans.

The bottom line: Apply to a broad range of colleges, including those that compete against one another. If your first-choice university does not make the best initial offer, maybe it will increase its package in response to a better one from a competitor.

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