Authored by Financial Aid Consultant Jill Stone. Jill has been working for the past 15 years to insure that student’s have affordable access to higher education. She has been a member of the financial aid staff at both the University of New Haven (where she also served as the institution’s Director of Veteran Student Services) and most recently Yale Law School.

The average undergraduate tuition at an Ivy League institution for the upcoming 2016-2017 academic year tops $42,500. Add in student fees and room and board and the average escalates to $64,594. Such a high price tag in and of itself might be a major deterrent in even considering submitting an admission application to those schools, but before making that decision, consider the following…
First, in evaluating the cost of an educational institution, don’t look at the pure “sticker price” of the tuition cost or the add-ins of fees, room and board. Examine instead the “net price”- what are student truly obligated to pay out of pocket after financial aid. It’s pretty easy to do – since (beginning in 2011) all schools administering federal aid must provide students with a “net price calculator” (traditionally on their website) to assist in calculating what an individual student might expect to receive in financial aid and, consequently, the balance for which they might be held responsible. Net price calculators simulate the types of questions the institution will ask and use in making financial aid determinations. And while all the calculators have major disclaimers (i.e. – a true aid award can only be made based on submission and review of the school’s actual aid application) the calculators can still give you a good idea of your bottom line costs. Make sure, when evaluating the net cost, you are also factoring in any GI Bill benefits to which you are entitled. Many of the online net price calculators may not make accommodations for that specific support. Ultimately a school, which on the surface appeared financially out of reach, may seem a lot more attainable when the “net cost” is revealed.
Second, remember the basic reality – many of those private, higher priced institutions are also the schools with the most robust endowments. Quite simply they have more donors (including alumni) who will support the institution by establishing scholarship funds. Those scholarships might be need-based or merit-based, but ultimately there will be many more scholarship opportunities at a private, highly selective university than other colleges and universities, so there is a greater chance overall of receiving support to reduce that net price.
Third, just like the sticker price on a new car, there is room to negotiate. After receiving an aid award from any school, you should never hesitate to contact the financial aid office to discuss the offer. Here are a couple of financial aid negotiation tips:
• It’s never the best approach to ask for more money just for the sake of receiving more money. Provide the financial aid officer with a clear rationale for your request by sharing as much information as you can about your unique financial situation and why the initial financial aid award creates a “net price” (yes, use that term!) difficult for you to manage.
• Be sure, in addition to talking dollars and cents, you also reiterate (over and over) your interest in the institution and sincere desire to attend so they understand if the award can be amended there is a very high probability you will attend. In other words, make it worth their while to work with you in the negotiation.
• Understand how your initial award was made and what methodology the Aid Office is using to calculate the award. You have a higher probability of receiving increased merit-based aid funds than need-based, since merit funds are awarded on a far more discretionary basis than need-based aid.
• And, if possible, find a way to make your pitch face-to-face with a member of the Financial Aid staff. The reality is it’s far easier for a staff member to say “no” when you are just a name on a paper than when you are sitting across the desk from them. Be aware many schools have a formal “appeal” process for their aid awards, and you should be careful to follow any instructions and file any paperwork required for their formal process. The Financial Aid Office should still be a priority stop in scheduling any campus visit. Establishing a personal contact and connection in that office could gain you a valuable ally in negotiating the aid award.
Finally, always (always) apply for financial aid. Many students assume, based on economic, family, or personal experience, they won’t qualify for aid; or perhaps they didn’t receive aid at a prior institution so they presuppose they will not qualify at another school. So going back to our highly selective, private cohort of schools – those institutions traditionally award “institutional aid” (from those healthy endowments) in addition to federal aid. As such, most have their own individualized methodologies to award their institutional funds, so you can’t make a blanket statement you won’t qualify when each school has its own policies and formula to determine how they distribute their funds. The only way an intimidating high sticker price will ever be reduced is if there is an aid award at play. If you don’t turn in a financial aid application, it will never happen, but if you do the price may come down significantly.