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Negotiating Your College Tuition

How to get your top schools to lower their college costs.

Photo: Thinkstock

With tuition rising at both public and private colleges, you may be wondering how you’ll be able to afford to attend your top school. But what you may not know is that the published tuition rate is not necessarily the price you have to pay.

The combination of a weakened economy and fewer students graduating from high school has made students more of a commodity, and this means colleges and universities are more willing to accommodate students’ financial needs to get them to choose their school. Through a little research and smart negotiations, you can reduce your out-of-pocket college expenses and attend the school of your choice. Here’s how:

No deal is a good one if you’re not going to be happy at the school.

Step 1: Compare the costs.

Once you’ve been accepted to colleges and universities, look at their published tuition rates and your financial situation. While public colleges will generally have a lower tuition, keep in mind that private, non-profit colleges are more dependent on tuition money, so they may be especially willing to make a deal with you – receiving less tuition money from a student is better than receiving no money at all.

Step 2: Open the discussion.

If you don’t ask about additional money, the school won’t offer it. Contact an advisor at your top school and let them know you’re interested in enrolling but would need to reduce your out-of-pocket expenses to do so. It’s important to be straightforward and professional in your request, as well as realistic about what you’re asking for. Bear in mind that prestigious colleges are less likely to be willing to negotiate because of the larger number of students who want to attend those schools.

Step 3: Ask about scholarships, grants and work-study opportunities.

Colleges and universities are not in a position to give you a discount on the cost of tuition. What they can do, however, is offer you gift aid in the form of scholarships, grants and work-study programs to reduce your out-of-pocket cost of attendance. Even if you’ve been awarded some gift aid from the school in your financial aid award letter, there may be additional aid available that the school can use to attract desirable candidates.

Step 4: Sell yourself as a student.

Make sure the school knows about your accomplishments and why you’d be an asset to them, so they’ll be more willing to work with you. Also, use other schools as leverage: If you’ve been accepted into both public and private colleges, inform the private colleges that the tuition at the public schools is lower and ask if they can help reduce your expenses to make their schools appear more favorable to you.

Step 5: Choose your school carefully.

No deal is a good one if you’re not going to be happy at the school. In addition to negotiating your college tuition costs, take into consideration the school’s academic offerings, location and other key factors to ensure that the school is a good fit for you before you make your final decision.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

What's a Financial Aid Package?
How to Compare Financial Aid Packages
Award Letter Basics
How to Appeal a Financial Aid Award Letter
Questions to Ask Schools' Financial Aid Offices
Need-Based vs Merit-Based Financial Aid
Need Blind vs. Need Aware Admissions Policies
College Provided Financial Aid Programs

See All College Financial Aid: The Basics of Student Aid and FAFSA Articles

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