How To: Negotiating Your Financial Aid Package + Email Templates!

The tips, tools, and tricks you need to successfully negotiate your financial aid.

Happy Decision Season! For the next couple of months, students all over the country will be receiving decisions on their college applications. It’s a tricky time filled with mixed emotions. For many students, whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, this time also means making financial decisions about how to pay for your education, through loans, aid, and personal savings. 

You will typically hear about merit-based aid as soon as you’re admitted, likely with your acceptance letter. Some schools will have you apply for need-based financial aid after you’ve been admitted and accepted their offer, others may have you apply to FAFSA at the same time you’re applying to a program so that you can see your full aid package when you’re accepted.  It’s within merit-based aid that most people are awarded things like scholarships or gift-aid by the school. Need-based aid will be based on separate applications, like FAFSA, or the university’s own need-based financial aid form. It typically takes 3-4 weeks to hear back about need-based aid if you’re applying after being admitted. 

Once you hear back from your university’s aid office, you’ll be presented with an award letter. Think of your financial aid award letter as a first draft as opposed to a finished product. If you really want to go somewhere and the cost after scholarships and aid is too high, try asking for more. Schools won’t rescind your acceptance just because you ask politely for more financial help. 

You have the most power when you ask for more aid before you accept and put down a deposit to attend a school. The best possible scenario is one in which you can leverage the aid package from one school against the aid package of your top choice. When writing an email to your top choice’s financial aid office, be sure to include the following points: 

  • State your intent: “I would be honored to attend…”

  • Mention your other offers: “X other school offered me $X scholarship and it would not make financial sense for me to attend [top choice school] due to this” 

  • Ask politely: “Is there anything [top choice school] can do to make my decision easier?” 

  • Emphasize your resolve:  “[top choice school] is my top choice and I will attend if only the finances made sense.”

  • Mention that you’ve planned: “I need $X more to attend. After budgeting, this is what me/my family can afford…” 

For students going from high school to undergrad, or undergrads who are going straight to graduate school, you could even: 

  • Mention how much you improved over your last semester: “I have worked diligently this last semester, leading my GPA to go up by X points…” 

Some things to remember:
  • Keep the email short and fact-filled
  • Avoid telling your whole life story, shed light on your overall situation if you wish but keep it succinct
  • Include a breakdown of figures illustrating how much you will be falling short
  • Use words like “appeal,” and steer clear of words like “bargaining” 
  • If you have specific documentation (pay-stubs, receipts) that backs up your appeal, think about including them 

Below, find an example that you can use as a foundation. The bolded portions are things to replace when writing your own email.  
My name is John Doe, and I’m a high school senior attending Springs Highschool in Dallas, Texas. I feel honored and thrilled to have recently been admitted to the Mountain University, as it is my number one choice.

However, I’m concerned about my ability to finance my college education at your school, so I am respectfully asking for an adjustment of my financial aid award. I love the friendly, collaborative atmosphere on campus. And I’m excited by all research opportunities available to Mountain students, from the Independent Research Grants program to the research assistant jobs in the psychology labs with the likes of Professor Zimbardi.

However,  I’m finding it difficult to accept my admission for three main reasons:
  • I received a better financial aid offer at River College. 
  • My family’s income has decreased dramatically since my father got laid off from work. 
  • My family’s expenses have increased dramatically after having to pay medical bills for my mother. 

Allow me to explain each of these in more detail. First, I have received $X in scholarships from River College. Due to my current financial situation, it would not make sense for you to attend Mountain University given the amount of financial aid River College has offered, Mountain University remaining my top choice. Second, due to the effects of COVID-19, my father has lost his job and is having difficulty in securing a new one. Please find unemployment documentation attached. Third, my mother has recently been ill and we are currently in the process of paying off her medical bills. Please find the bill-stubs attached. This, combined with my father’s unemployment, has led to a change in my financial situation. In order to attend Mountain College, I would need $X more to account for my family’s budget. 

I appreciate your help and time in reviewing these circumstances and thank you in advance for considering an adjustment to my financial aid award package.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.


SmarterCollege Team
Written By
SmarterCollege Team

SmarterCollege came into existence to help students and families save money through scholarships, student loans and other financial products. The SmarterCollege Team has worked with tens of thousands of students and families to help them save money.

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