Financial Aid and Scholarships >How to Get a Tuition Discount
When you go to buy a car, you often see an advertised price on the windshield that’s much higher than the price you’ll actually pay. At any car dealership or website, it’s expected that consumers will compare prices and bargain for a discount on their new car--and the secret is the same practice often applies at many universities and colleges around the country. The key to getting a better price lies in being an informed consumer and being willing to negotiate what you’ll pay for your bachelor degree.
You may have heard of tuition and fee discounting, or tuition waivers, as you’ve been researching your college and financial aid options. Depending on where you end up attending college, you may be able to request a financial aid package that includes tuition assistance in the form of a discount or even tuition remission (aka free tuition), based on your expected family contribution and other factors such as your academic profile, extracurriculars, and demographic background.
At Edmit, we’re firm believers that college should be affordable to everyone who wants to earn an associate degree or bachelor degree. To make that affordability within reach, high school students (or parents of a soon-to-be-in-college dependent child) need to take the entire financial aid package into account, including how to determine a college’s net price, student loans, grants and scholarships, and tuition discounts.
Here, we’ll go over how you can take advantage of tuition and fee discounts to make your college experience fit with your family’s budget.
First things first--what is a tuition discount? According to the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB), tuition discounting refers to when a college or university “offsets” its sticker price (aka the published tuition price) with institutional grant aid for students. The resulting discount rate refers to the “ratio of total institutional grant aid relative to gross tuition revenues” at a given college or university. Because of endowments and government subsidies, AGB notes that most colleges offer some form of tuition discounting, even for students who may be able to pay the full cost of tuition.
Of course (and unlike a car dealership), tuition and fee discounts aren’t advertised, nor do colleges publish what their tuition discount rate is. So it makes an interesting challenge for students and parents, one with an element of mystery--you know most colleges will offer tuition and fee discounts, but you may not necessarily know which schools have the most plentiful or generous discount rates. You know some schools may consider you a desirable applicant (and thus eligible for discounts), but are unsure which colleges would give you preferential packaging. In these cases, work with what you do know--your own plan to pay for college, covering your finances, college budget or savings, and expected family contribution. You can then start your own college research to find colleges that are a good fit for your academic and career goals. Next, based on your own calculations and research, you can then start discussions with admissions and financial aid counselors, and/or the registrar office, to determine which colleges are a good financial fit.
Simply put, tuition and fee discounting is one way to attract quality students. With college enrollments expected to decline over the coming years, universities and colleges must become more competitive to enroll and retain students. Tuition and fee discounts are just one method in a college’s admissions strategy to get that valuable enrollment.
Tuition and fee discounts are also a way to stay relevant with the expectations of a changing student market. According to Money, many financial aid counselors expect students and families to haggle to get a lower tuition price. So if you take the first financial aid award as the final offer, you’re missing an opportunity to potentially get more free money for college (and saving thousands by avoiding more student loan debt).
Additionally, special circumstances can lead to tuition and fee discounts, such as relocating to take advantage of in-state tuition rates, receiving qualifying scholarships (e.g., a tuition discount is dependent upon a student’s winning status), or being a legacy student.
Higher education is subject to market trends like any other sector, and how universities and colleges anticipate and plan for economic changes will affect their tuition prices--and rate of tuition discounting. As such, students can expect that tuition and fee discounts may be affected by a given college’s endowment, federal and state government subsidies, the college’s sticker price for the given academic year, and how close the college is to meeting its enrollment and retention goals.
When researching tuition and fee discounts, don’t just take the current academic year into account. Look at this year’s tuition price, as well as the expected tuition rate increases over the next four years (or however long you anticipate it will take you to graduate). When negotiating with college financial aid counselors, ask about the sustainability of any tuition and fee discounts through your graduation. After all, you’ll want to ensure each year--not just your freshman year--will fit with your budget and expected family contribution.
We know that negotiating for a better tuition price can be uncomfortable at first. Talking about money is never easy, but the college savings can be significant: In the 2015-16 school year, the average tuition discount rate at more than 400 private colleges was 49 percent. Given market forces and university expectations, the chances are in your favor: College counselors are expecting you to negotiate, college sticker prices are rarely the final price students will pay, and there’s money available for tuition and fee discounts. In short--Go for it!
There are many ways to start a tuition discount request: You can share your financial aid award letters directly with your top colleges to see if lowest prices can be matched. You can use a college cost comparison tool to learn which colleges may be most open to negotiating. You can simply ask whether the school has additional financial aid and/or tuition discounts available. To find out which method may be most advantageous, speak to your college’s financial aid office or bursar office to determine their preferred methods, and start from there.
Like any negotiation, prepare for a few rounds of back-and-forth with college admissions counselors, and remember your initial calculations and best fit research. To maintain a bargaining advantage and to avoid excessive student loan debt, diversify the number of schools where you could see yourself enrolling. Unlike at a car dealership, you’re negotiating for a purchase that should appreciate over time. Use the tools at your disposal to research and bargain, and get the tuition discount that will make that four-year degree attainable and affordable.