Graduation hat on pile of $100 bills

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When you fill out the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), your school typically sends you a financial aid award letter. This details the financial aid you can get, including grants, awards, student loans, and more.

What many college students don’t realize is that there can be quite a bit of room to negotiate. As a former college student who never thought to question his financial aid, I was very intrigued to hear this.

So I spoke with Kelly Peeler, CEO and founder of Money Mentor (formerly NextGenVest), a division of CommonBond, in order to find out more.

Matt Frankel, CFP, The Ascent: Hi Kelly. I’m reading about the ability to negotiate financial aid. Do students actually have success with this?

Kelly Peeler, CEO and founder, Money Mentor: Yes, this week alone we helped students negotiate $25k. In the past year, we've helped students negotiate $325k. CommonBond CEO David Klein is a case in point. While deciding between schools, he tried to get his top choice to match the offer of another. It didn’t work prior to his freshman year, but two years in, he went back to the bursar’s office, laid out his accomplishments, and was able to secure a reduction in tuition. It can happen and it does happen.

Frankel: Let’s say that I’m a new college student, and my financial aid package is a few thousand dollars too low and it’s not practical to attend unless they give me a bit more. What are the next steps I should take?

Peeler: You should compare your other offers. If you've gotten a better offer, you should indicate that in an appeal letter to the financial aid office. Even if you didn't get a better offer you should still write a letter to the financial aid office indicating it is your top choice college and how much in additional financial aid you would need to attend.

Frankel: Can I really use one school’s financial aid offer as leverage when trying to negotiate with another school?

Peeler: Absolutely! This is one of the more effective strategies we've seen. Think of it like two separate job offers. You’re going to want to take the offer that makes most sense for you. So it always plays to your advantage to play one college against the other. There is no harm in asking.

Frankel: What are some negotiating tips you can give students so they’ll have the best chance of success?

Peeler: Sign up for step-by-step coaching at! But also, the first thing people should know is that renegotiating cannot jeopardize your offer. I’ve talked with admissions advisors on this very topic. They want you to enroll, and they’re going to do everything in their power to ensure that happens. To go deeper, here are the things that a student should consider or use to help in their negotiation process:

  • A change in your family’s financial position
  • Play one offer against another. If college X is giving you a better scholarship, but you really want to go to college Y, let your top choice know!

Negotiating can save you thousands

After hearing these tips, I wish I could go back and renegotiate my own financial aid -- but I doubt they’d budge now that it’s 15 years later. And negotiating is even more important today.

The average room and board at four-year public universities is $21,730. Private institutions average $48,510. To say that negotiating your financial aid can save you thousands is an accurate statement indeed.