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How I Negotiated Higher Financial Aid Offers and You Can Too

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

You’re probably going to think I’m crazy.

I applied to 50 schools.

Let me explain.

The college application process is daunting. But the way I see, the college application process is a game of numbers: The more applications you submit, the more acceptances you’ll have—and the more likely you are to get better financial aid offers.

And because of that, I racked up more than $3 million in scholarships and grants.

My secret?

Using those better offers to negotiate with my target schools and secure a better financial aid package.

So why not give myself the best chance to receive a great education at a lower price?

Here’s how I did it:

For months, I constantly researched schools using Niche and identified which schools were my reaches, targets and safeties.

Reach schools are those that you aren’t likely to get into, but there’s still a chance.
Target schools are those for which you’re qualified and you’re likely to get accepted.
Safety schools are those were you over qualify and can be used as a back-up plan (if you don’t get into your top picks).

I also determined which fit my academic, social and geographic needs.

By identifying my three types of schools, I understood that I was most likely going to end up at one of my target schools and that I needed to leverage safety school offers to help me accumulate larger financial aid and scholarship offers with the target schools.

In March, after my acceptances came in, I poured over my offer letters. Make sure you understand what each school is offering. Here’s Niche’s guide to reading financial aid letters.

Armed and ready with the more lucrative offers, I contacted my top universities and negotiated for better financial aid by leveraging the safety school offers. Doing this significantly decreased the price to attend my schools of choice, and I highly recommend doing this.

Befriend Your Financial Aid Officer... Now!

It never hurts to ask, and every single school that I appealed to (about 10) ended up offering me better packages. On top of that, I did not spend a single penny on applications.

At the start of the process, I emailed the financial aid offices of all 50 schools I applied to and asked for a fee waiver.

And guess what? Every single school agreed to waive the application fee.

Despite my success, I won’t sugarcoat the amount of effort it took.

This process was extremely exhausting, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.  I currently attend one of my top choices, and I will leave debt free.

But, full transparency: I did have a 4.06 out of 4.3 weighted GPA and a 1300 SAT. I was also being recruited by 15 schools across soccer and football, which also played into my decision to apply to so many schools. I was involved with around 10 extracurriculars at my high school in addition to athletics. Notably, I was the head attorney for my mock trial team all four years, and I co-founded the INK Literary Magazine and Senior Siblings clubs at my school. My stats are solid, but not jaw-dropping.

Even though I didn’t feel as though I had the best standardized test scores or high school resume compared to some of my peers, I knew that I could use my knowledge of the college process to be successful.

So regardless of what you look like on paper, with attention to detail and determination, you too can earn a financial aid package to help you attend more college affordably. 

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Author: Robert Meyer

Rob is currently a junior at Gettysburg College, double majoring in Political Science and Economics. He is from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, which is right outside of Philadelphia. When not creating content for Niche, he can be found kicking for the Gettysburg College Football Team, hanging out with friends, or watching his favorite Philadelphia sports teams.