Negotiating College Tuition—Get Discounts With These Bargaining Tactics

When college semesters begin this fall, things will look a little different. Colleges will need to adjust to life post-lockdown, with the potential for remote learning and a reduction in social activities.

Additionally, prospective college students may be considering whether or not they even want to begin college this year. Many may defer a year, leaving colleges with fewer students—especially fewer international students—and therefore, less money.

As a result, some colleges may offer discounts on tuition, like Williams College, which is offering a 15 percent discount on its fee for tuition and room and board costs for the academic year 2020-2021.

Students are demanding discounts on the upcoming academic year, too. A social media post suggesting that "universities should not be allowed to charge students full price for remote learning" has gone viral on Twitter, with the original poster linking a thread of petitions calling for colleges and universities to reduce the price of the upcoming fall semester.

But prospective students may not need a petition to reduce the fee they pay this year—they might be able to just ask.

Negotiating with colleges isn't new, but this year, students may have the upper-hand. Prospective college students could be in a great position to bargain with their desired schools, as colleges may need to be prepared to offer discounts in the hopes of attracting more students and filling more spaces.

Financial Aid Office
Freshman Winston Yan enters the Admissions Building at Harvard University September 12, 2006 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Students should negotiate with colleges for better financial aid packages for the academic year 2020-2021. Glen Cooper/Getty

Many colleges use enrollment-management consultants who determine the bargaining power of the school and the prospective student. According to The Wall Street Journal, they use data from Free Application for Federal Student Aid (Fafsa), and use an algorithm to analyze hundreds of characteristics to determine how price-sensitive students are, and therefore, how much they can charge them.

Conversely, some families hire consultants to help them bargain with colleges and get the best deal possible. But there are other resources out there to help with negotiating college fees, like NextGenVest, College Vine, and Money Mentor.

Prospective students hoping to attend a college they just about qualify for are in less of a position to get a discount than students who are more valuable to another college. However, it is worth asking anyway.

Business Insider reported on a student who negotiated nearly $50,000 off his yearly tuition, by writing an appeal letter, submitting extra tax forms, and providing additional teacher recommendations.

Money Mentor founder and CEO Kelly Peeler told Yahoo Finance that students should not accept college offers straight away as this loses them some bargaining power. Peeler said that hopeful students should email the financial aid office explaining in a detailed and specific way why they would add value to the college and why it is the right college for them.

Davin Sweeney, a director of college counseling at Collegewise told CNBC that students should consider whether they should frame their negotiation with a need-based appeal or a merit-based appeal.

In a need-based appeal, students should explain to the college any circumstances that would affect their ability to pay, but what was not included in the financial aid application. Merit-based appeals should highlight better financial aid offers from comparable colleges, if possible.

There are plenty of reasons why students hoping to attend college this year could and should try to negotiate their financial aid packages, and no reason to not even try.

Suzi Allen, who was the director of financial aid at the University of New Hampshire for decades, told CBS: "The worst thing that will happen if you reach out is that your financial aid isn't going to change.

"But the best thing is that it is going to change and it could change substantially."