It’s important to me to help parents become better consumers of higher education. It’s so hard to be logical and practical when it comes to helping our kids get on their path toward a better future, but we owe it to them and ourselves to remember that where we send our kids to college is a lifestyle choice – just like buying a car or a house.
If you have a high school senior, they are likely excited about getting acceptance letters. And while you are probably excited about acceptance letters, the financial aid package that goes with it is just as important for you.
While the best strategy for affording college is to only apply to schools you can afford, now is the time to make the best of what your student is offered. Other than the very top tier schools, colleges are trying to fill their classes with the best students they can and currently, there are more slots at colleges than there are qualified students.
This gives you some leverage for increasing your financial aid package. In chapter 11 of Never Pay Retail for College, I talk about how an offer letter is just a starting point. If your student did not get their best offer from the school that is their top choice, you may have some room to negotiate.
Of course, there is no guarantee that it will work. And it requires more finesse than haggling over a used car. The idea is to let your top school know that you would prefer to come there, but you have a more appealing financial package from another school, and you need to do what is best for your family financially.
Before contacting the college, ensure you are comparing the cost of attending and not just the financial aid they are offering (e.g. a school that offers $10,000 in aid on a $30,000 tuition has a higher cost of attendance than a school that offers $5,000 in aid on a $20,000 tuition). And without a better offer from another school, you do not really have much room to negotiate. However, if you do have a better offer, negotiating can sometimes save you $5,000 per year or more.
You owe it to yourself and your student to reduce the total cost of attending college. That is money you could be saving for retirement or less debt your student will have when graduating.
If you would like some help figuring out how to get the best financial aid package for college, I would love to help.