How incoming college students can negotiate tuition costs

With acceptance to college comes another acceptance: your family will soon part with a lot of money. However, not many families realize students can negotiate — or “appeal,” as colleges term it — their financial aid award package.

“What they don’t understand is there are some schools where you can negotiate to get more money than was originally offered,” said Jay Benanav, the founder of College Inside Track, a St. Paul business that helps families through the college and financial application process. 

Benanav told Fox 9 that about 60 percent of his students who ask for more money receive it; a trade study reported that more than half of students receive the additional money. He said one Minnesota student received an extra $37,000 per year from a large, private East Coast school; and said students average an additional $8,000 per year.

Colleges provide little information on the process; one St. Paul college responded to Fox’s request for information by saying, “we’re going to pass on your query.”

Benanav said there are usually two reasons a college might offer additional money than the initial financial aid award: (1) when the family’s finances changed since filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application, or (2) when a competing school offered more money.

“If the student perhaps wants to got to a school where they haven’t gotten as much money as the other school, that’s when you go back and say ‘I’m interested in your school,’ assuming they are, ‘but the other school gave me this money. Is there something you can do to come close to it?’” Benanav told Fox 9.

Benanav suggested appealing by e-mail with a follow-up three to five days later. He said to be polite, and to be specific about how much money might make the school affordable. And most importantly, he said to always be truthful and have documentation.

Benanav told Fox 9 that private schools are much more likely to give additional money than public schools, and that schools in big cities are less likely to give extra aid. 

For most schools, the deadline is May 2. Benanav says there’s time “but not a lot of time to waste now.”

University of St. Thomas statement
Kristin Roach, director of admissions and financial aid:

"From our perspective “appealing” and “negotiating” financial aid awards are two different things.  Financial aid appeals are something we review on a weekly basis and they most commonly are the result of a change in a family’s financial circumstances (loss of job/wages, illness and medical expenses, private high school tuition paid, death of a family member, etc.).  We encourage families to make sure we have the same financial information that other schools have so we are all considering the same financial facts.  We require families to document such financial circumstances and changes and submit an official appeal to us.  We then revisit the entire financial aid file and recalculate the student’s eligibility for financial aid from all sources (the federal government, the state of MN and the university).  “Negotiating” financial aid awards is not something we have done.   We attempt to provide students with the strongest award possible as soon as possible, to help them make an informed college selection decision. 

We do not disclose the number of appeals or the adjustments made on appeals as in our case, this is all based on confidential information and documented financial circumstances.  It is important to remember that each financial aid file represents a family; many of which have dynamic financial circumstances that make each case and each year unique.  For example: when the great recession hit, we saw a significant increase in appeals due to job loss and wage reductions.  Thankfully, thanks to generous donors to the university, we were in a position to help many of those hardest hit by the economic downturn … and that’s just one example of how changing economic forces impact the appeal process."