In the spring, the coronavirus pandemic forced colleges and universities to shift to online learning, a move that many plan to continue into the fall semesters. While adjusting to the new learning setup, students may also want to consider asking for a break on their tuition bills.
Some universities have already announced discounts, such as Princeton which is offering 10% off for all undergraduate students starting the 2020-21 school year. For others, you may need to ask for a discount yourself.
“Many colleges use very sophisticated modeling to help them predict exactly how many students they need to accept and at what price point in order to fill their class and bring in the tuition revenue that they want,” Shannon Vasconcelos, director of college finance at Bright Horizons College Coach. “This year, though, the models have been thrown out the window.”
Many colleges are working harder to recruit students for the fall semester and that gives you more power to negotiate. While most colleges have commitment deadlines in May, the pandemic may turn out to be a good opportunity for students and their families to try negotiating tuition.
“This year, as the admissions process has become fluid through the summer and returning sophomores, juniors and seniors decide whether or not they are able to afford to return, families who are still able to afford college are deciding if it makes sense to receive an online experience while paying for an in-person one,” said Joel Peck, a certified public accountant who is helping students negotiate tuition.
Here’s how to negotiate your tuition, according to experts.
‘Put your request in writing’
Negotiating the tuition in person is likely not an option given the current situation, so opt for a well-thought email to your future or current institution instead of phoning in.
“Put your request in writing so you can lay out your case and don’t put someone on the spot,” Vasconcelos said. “Follow up with a phone call in a week or two if you haven’t heard back.”
If you received need-based aid and have special financial circumstances, address your email to the financial aid office. If you received or are hoping to receive a merit scholarship, you should turn to the admissions office instead.
‘Provide documentation to support your case’
To have a higher chance of getting that discount, make your case by offering supporting documents that show why you need a discount now.
“Provide documentation to support your case,” Vasconcelos said. “If a parent has been furloughed, lost a job, or closed a small business in response to the coronavirus, document that decreased income.”
Other documents can show your high medical expenses or increased costs for childcare since schools closed.
Don’t shy away from mentioning that you have higher scholarship offers from other colleges or are considering lower-cost schools. Document those options and ask if there are any additional scholarships you could apply for, according to Vasconcelos.
‘Remain flexible to what may be offered’
Negotiating tuition with a few different universities may shift your personal rankings of which university you or your child wants to go to.
“Everyone wants this process to be over already, yet you need to remain flexible to what may be offered,” Peck said. “A deep discount may change which college looks most attractive to you, yet it doesn’t matter unless your child agrees.”
Be prepared for that by making sure you and your child are on the same page about how broad the options may be before you begin negotiating your tuition options.
‘Ask for additional funding’
You already got a discount, but it’s not enough? Ask for more.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for additional funding,” Vasconcelos said. “Colleges will not rescind admissions offers or reduce funding already awarded because you asked for more.”
Yes, there’s the possibility of hearing a “no,” but you’re not losing anything by asking. You might even be surprised at how often colleges agree to additional funding and increase your offer in order to secure your attendance, according to Vasconcelos.
‘Don’t let yourself be overcharged’
Starting a school in the fall will be a very different experience than what your peers had just a year ago, so maybe you deserve to be charged a different price for it.
“Realize that the method of delivering a college education is facing a massive disruption,” Peck said. “During this disruption, colleges are essentially conducting a lab experiment to see what works and over-charging the participants along the way. Don’t let yourself be overcharged.”
Read more information and tips in our Advice section