Avoid Negotiating with Financial Aid Offers

Don't take one college or university's financial aid offer to another college or university and expect to use it in your favor.

Picking a college is not like buying a used car; you can negotiate only so much. There's plenty of bad advice circulating about how to get into college and how to get financial aid. Among the worst advice is that if you apply to several schools, you can use a financial aid offer from one college to bargain for more financial aid at the college that you really want to go to. Don't do it.

Pitting one school's financial offer against another's is more than just bad form. Remember, every aspect of applying to college should be a time when you put your best foot forward, not seek out ways to buck the system. And if it looks like you're willing to manipulate a better financial offer for yourself, it's not too far of a stretch for a college to assume that you might cheat and bamboozle your way through your classes, if accepted. The financial aid and admissions offices might operate independently from each other, but that doesn't mean the people who work in these offices never speak to each other. Your reputation as a future used-car salesman could travel.

Generally, colleges and universities don't use financial aid as a bargaining chip. Barring honest mistakes, you can be reasonably sure that the financial aid offer a college first extends to you has been carefully weighed and is probably the best monetary offer the college can give you. Getting financial aid is not like buying a new DVD player, where you can tell a retailer that a store down the street has the same machine for a lower price and expect your salesman to match it. If you try this in a college or university financial aid office, don't be surprised if you're met with a blank stare, or worse — a suggestion that you might be better off attending the cheaper school if negotiating a good deal is that important to you. With record numbers of people applying to college these days, a college's incentive to barter financial aid is even lower.