Can You Negotiate Financial Aid?

By Melissa Brock · April 17, 2023 · 9 minute read

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Can You Negotiate Financial Aid?

After you file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), you’ll receive a financial aid award from the colleges to which you’ve been granted admission. You may receive scholarships, grants, and loans. When you receive your financial aid awards from institutions, they may not cover every dollar of tuition, room, board, and fees. As a result, you may find that you cannot afford a particular institution.

It may be possible to negotiate your financial aid award with the financial aid office at each institution you’re considering. Continue reading for more information about how to negotiate financial aid awards and how to get more money from colleges.

What Is Financial Aid?

Financial aid is money you receive based on your financial aid award. There are different types of financial aid components that make up a financial aid award. You may want to think of it as a puzzle that could include grants, scholarships, work-study, and federal student loans. You can accept and decline different parts of the “puzzle” to create your own financial aid award. Applying for student loans, grants, certain scholarships, and work-study involves filing the FAFSA.

Grants and scholarships are forms of financial aid that you don’t have to pay back. Grants typically come from the federal government, states or colleges, and the amount you can get in grant money depends on your need and the type of institution you attend.

Scholarships on a financial aid award letter typically come from the institution for various reasons. They may be based on merit (for example, for good grades) or on talents you possess, such as music or athletic talent.

Work-study is a type of financial aid in which students who have financial need qualify for part-time employment on campus.

Federal student loans may also appear on your financial aid award. Federal student loans, which come from the federal government, must be repaid — with interest.

Every college offers a different amount of financial aid to the same student. In other words, if you apply and get accepted to five different schools, you will likely get five different aid awards. It’s worth learning more about how financial aid works at each institution by asking a financial aid professional at each institution you visit.

Recommended: FAFSA Guide

Is Your Financial Aid Amount Negotiable?

Yes, you can negotiate your financial aid amount. However, it’s important to realize that some pieces of the financial aid award are not negotiable. For example, first-year undergraduate dependent students can qualify for no more than $5,500 in subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans. No more than $3,500 of this amount may be in subsidized loans.

In addition, it’s also important to understand that colleges may be limited in the amount they can offer you for additional financial aid. Even if you ask for all the gaps to be covered between the total cost and the amount you receive in financial aid, colleges may only be able to offer a small amount of additional financial aid.

5 Tips for Negotiating Financial Aid

Let’s take a look at a few tips for negotiating financial aid, from the presentation process to writing a letter for financial aid, as well as providing relevant supporting documentation.

1. Present the Financial Aid Office With a Specific Amount You Need

You can present the financial aid office with a specific amount you need, but before you do that, it’s a good idea to think through a few other factors beyond the numbers you see on your financial aid award. When you review financial aid awards, it’s important to go over each one with a fine-toothed comb.

Each financial aid award will list the financial aid you’ve received, but it’s a good idea to get an idea of the full costs, including tuition, room, board, and fees, before you choose a college. Some fees may not pop up until later, such as lab fees, club organization dues, athletic fees, parking fees, and more. Ask the financial aid office for a comprehensive list of fees that might crop up.

It’s also important to factor in tuition increases. You can ask the financial aid office for the average increase amount.

Note that scholarships usually don’t increase as tuition increases occur, which means that if scholarships don’t change and tuition increases, you’ll be responsible for making a larger tuition payment. Some schools do freeze tuition, so find out more about how that works at the institutions you’re considering attending.

After you’ve done all your homework, you can then decide on a specific amount of money you’d like to see from each financial aid office.

2. Put Everything in Writing

Ask the financial aid department about their financial aid appeal process or consult the website of the financial aid office to find out about the supportive documentation you need to provide to qualify for more financial aid. Following directions may help increase your chances of success.

Write a high-quality financial aid appeal letter to the director of financial aid, using a business letter format, and a formal tone — skip the fancy fonts! Your letter should be as businesslike and respectful as possible, but very direct. Explain how interested in the school you are and identify the forms you’ve submitted.

3. Explain Why You Should Get More Money

It’s important to shore up your desire to obtain more financial aid by demonstrating a need for more financial aid. In other words, you have to have a good reason to need more financial aid — in most cases, you can’t just say you simply want more financial aid. Financial aid offices also will likely not award you more aid just because a parent is unwilling to contribute to education costs or file the FAFSA or if a parent does not claim the student as a dependent.

The institutions you’d like more money from could require you to fill out a special circumstances form, which is a form that shares situations that affect your family’s ability to pay for college. A special circumstances form shares your family’s unique financial circumstances with the institution when you appeal.

The following situations may qualify as special circumstances and could allow you to receive more financial aidIf your family is:

•   supporting multiple households,

•   has experienced a one-time jump in income,

•   has secondary or elementary school expenses,

•   had to make a retirement fund withdrawal for emergency purposes,

•   has funeral expenses or unreimbursed medical and dental expenses, educational debt, a job loss, or has had a significant reduction in income.

Read the instructions carefully to learn how to successfully submit the special circumstances form for your institution.

4. Provide Any Relevant Supporting Documents

When writing your letter and filling out your special circumstances form, you’ll likely need to provide evidence of your family’s situation, which could include:

•   Divorce documentation or decree

•   Court documentation to substantiate a separation

•   Copy of parent marriage certificate

•   Copy of family member death certificate

•   Letter from employer documenting the last date of employment if no longer employed

•   Documentation of year-to-date earnings, unemployment, and/or disability benefits

•   Copies of three most recent paycheck stubs

•   Documentation of termination of child support payments

•   Documentation one-time income or benefits

•   Documentation of medical expenses not covered by insurance for family members

•   Documentation of elementary or secondary school tuition paid

Follow the instructions your school’s financial aid office includes.

5. Follow Up

You may need to allow several weeks for the financial aid appeal to be processed (sometimes four to six weeks), but if you don’t hear back from the financial aid office about a change in your award letter, you may want to reach back out to make sure you’ve submitted all the required documentation. You may have forgotten a critical component of the financial aid appeal, which could hold up a final decision.

Alternatives to Financial Aid

While financial aid can help you get through school, it’s not the only way to pay for college. There are alternatives to relying completely on financial aid to get through school. Consider working while in school, asking relatives for help, and accessing private student loans. Let’s take a look.

Working While in School

Working while in school or on breaks during the summer can help alleviate some of the costs of college. You may not be able to rely on the work-study award to pay for the full cost of college because work-study is limited to a specific number of hours, as determined by your financial aid award.

Finding a part-time job can help pay for a wide variety of college expenses and can offer valuable professional experiences.

Asking Relatives for Help

Relatives may be willing to help you pay for college. When parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents or other relatives chip in, it can alleviate a chunk of college costs, particularly when combined with a part-time job while in school.

It’s a good idea to make sure both you and your relative(s) agree that these types of payments are gifts, not loans. You don’t want to be surprised by a relative that expects repayment as soon as you’re done with school. You may even want to write down the amount of money, terms, and conditions involved, and have both parties agree and sign before you accept any money for college.

Private Student Loans

Private student loans are loans that, unlike federal student loans, do not come from the federal government. Private student loans typically come from private organizations, such as banks, credit unions, and other organizations. You can also check with the college or university you plan to attend for information about private student loans.

Like federal student loans, however, private student loans must be repaid along with interest payments. Repayment terms and benefits vary depending on the lender, and interest rates could be fixed or variable. (All types of federal student loans offer fixed interest rates only.)

Unlike federal student loans, private student loans may not offer the borrower protections afforded to their federal counter parts, so they are generally considered as a last-resort option. Take the time to shop around among several private student lenders before you land on the right one for you. Learn more about private student loans in our private student loans guide.

Explore SoFi’s Private Student Loan Options

If you think you may need to cover some of your college costs with a private student loan, SoFi offers private loans that could help you pay for your education. Explore and compare federal and private loan options, terms, and interest rates to determine the best option for your educational needs.

Worried about rising interest rates? SoFi offers competitive interest rates for qualifying private student loan borrowers.


Can you negotiate your financial aid offer?

Yes, you can negotiate your financial aid offer. Check with the college, university, or other postsecondary institution(s) you receive a financial aid award about the process before you attempt to negotiate. The institution may have very specific requirements in order to negotiate your award.

How can I negotiate more money for college?

Requesting more financial aid can be done by following the financial aid appeals process at the college(s) you’re considering. Typically, you can present a letter to the financial aid office, fill out the special circumstances document provided by the institution, and provide supporting documentation. Follow up if you haven’t heard back from the institution between four and six weeks.

How do I ask a college to match the financial aid another school offered me?

If you received two financial aid awards from two colleges, you can use a negotiating college tuition technique by showing the school that offers you less the better aid award from the other school. Doing this may make the most sense if they are similar institutions, such as if they are both private liberal arts colleges or if they are both large state universities. You’re most likely going to get a better response if you compare apples to apples instead of apples to oranges.

Photo credit: iStock/jacoblund

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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