Earning $8,000 over three days is great. Earning $44,000 by just changing your intended major is too. Negotiating college scholarships with the colleges that accept you can trigger big money. Here are stories of former OnToCollege students who successfully negotiated a better college scholarship.

Ask for More Money

One of our former students, Jake, agonized over four terrific small private colleges: Ohio Wesleyan, College of Wooster, Cornell College, and Nebraska Wesleyan. Each of these colleges offers rigorous, accountable, personalized education for typically $25,000 to $55,000 a year—significantly less than similar colleges on the East and West Coasts. Many of those colleges, like Hamilton and Pitzer, have $85,000 annual price tags that are hefty for most families who earn between $120,000 and $280,000 annually. These families are ineligible for much need-based aid and are not comfortable spending that amount.

Jake had a 30 on his ACT and will be a college athlete. All of his four colleges put forth generous merit-aid offers that lowered Jake’s annual net cost from $22,000 to $34,000. They all wanted him. Jake emailed the lowest net-cost college and said that he could borrow $5,500/year and earn $3,000/year, but he wasn’t comfortable asking his family to pay the extra $13,500/ year. His respectful, honest email asked for another $2,000 annually.

The college responded by asking for specifics on his other offers.

So Jake called his admissions rep at that college and shared his story verbally. Yes, this $22,000 net cost college was his lowest-cost offer, but he knew it would still be tough on his family. If the college could up their scholarship by $2,000/year, he’d enroll and mail in his deposit. An email arrived an hour later with the increased offer.

Jake felt if he could just get the total net cost down to $20,000, he and his family could fund his college dreams—with minimal debt. A well-thought-out email and a phone conversation—honest and respectful—saved him $8,000. 

Colleges often have discretion. Your admissions rep needs to know your bottom line to get you to accept, and they need to know that they can trust you.

Consider Another (Similar) Major

Emma wanted to study agricultural economics. She had a 29 on her ACT and was deciding between South Dakota State and Iowa State, two terrific public universities. After merit scholarships triggered by her ACT score and GPA, South Dakota State cost $17,000/year and Iowa State $21,000/year. Emma emailed Iowa State to ask what she could do to increase their offer and lower her net cost.

Iowa State’s admissions office responded that if she changed her major to agronomy, her tuition would be free. This effectively lowered her net cost to $12,000/year. So Emma thought through how she could major in agronomy but still study agricultural engineering. Changing her intended major (see a list of potential major options) slightly would save $44,000 over four years.

Jake’s and Emma’s names aren’t real, but the details and lessons from their stories are. Think of your bottom line: what net cost will get you to say yes to that school?

Communicate that information, explaining it honestly and respectfully. Start with an email to your admissions representative and follow up with a phone call. While students and parents should consult with each other throughout, the student should lead communication during these negotiations.

Successful negotiations require good GPAs and good ACT or SAT scores. They require strategically chosen colleges—dream schools, terrific schools that offer merit scholarships, and low-cost, high-value schools (good debt-free options or at least potential bargaining chips). Successful negotiations require a mature student willing to communicate and explain their bottom line.

Colleges want to know what it will take to have you enroll. Maybe they won’t fully agree to your request, but if you’re candid and respectful, you’ll likely learn more about each other and get your best-fit college at an even lower cost.

Apply to more colleges now, gather your offers, and approach your top choice with your request, the net cost that you and your family can handle. That college may just increase their scholarship and agree to it, especially if you have lower-cost offers from other colleges, including rival colleges.

Find the Perfect College at the Right Cost

College admissions can be complex, but you don’t have to do it alone. John Baylor and OnToCollege are here to help.