Frustrating College Negotiation

Although I humbly think of myself as a college negotiation master of the universe, occasionally the opposite conclusion gets shoved in my pie hole, like a warning to not believe my own press.

Last year, one of my favorite clients got into Cornell (off the wait list) and Johns Hopkins, which was awesome because she deserved it!  So many ups and downs, but finally her hard work paid off.

But here’s the thing:  days later, she got into Penn!

What’s the big deal, you wonder?  Here’s where it gets interesting.

Cornell and Johns Hopkins gave nice, 30K plus awards.  Also awesome (and probably too-good-to-be true if you were an outsider, looking at the value of her home and the cars her parents drive).

Then Penn’s offer comes:


Murphy’s Law dictated that Penn was her first choice college. But of course.

Mom and Dad were understandably concerned — the understatement of the year — and asked me what to do.

“Don’t worry,” I said in my normal, cavalier manner.  Happens all the time. We’ll appeal.

I put together a letter and they sent it off to the financial aid office.  Here’s what happened next:


No explanation, just a big fat NO.

Now mom and dad are more worried. “What should we do now?”

“Don’t worry,” I said, even though I wasn’t quite brimming with confidence.

“Sometimes it takes a while to get through their heads. I’ve had this exact same experience with Penn and other colleges,” I said.

We sent a follow up appeal letter, showing them the offers from the other two colleges, and asking the financial aid officer to walk us through how they calculated the (lack of) award.  The response:


No explanation, or “let’s take another look at how these other colleges came in with 30K plus.”

Just no.  Nice beside manner.

“Now what?” mom and dad asked.

“We need to go over their head.  The dope we’re dealing with is not a businessman, and not an accountant.  They don’t understand real life, they’re only there to say no,” I replied.

So we asked to speak to a senior member of the financial aid department.

Guess what the response was?

Are you sitting down, you’ll be shocked…


But then, miraculously,  a senior financial aid officer DID actually call them and asked them a few questions, mostly about their tax returns for their business. (I thought the hangup was about the value of their home, which again demonstrated that I was not quite the master of the college negotiating universe.)

Ready for what happened next?

Penn revised their offer from zero to more than 38,000 bucks — all grants — free money!

It took four friggin’ rounds of appealing, but to Penn’s credit, they finally acquiesced.

And to my clients’ credit, they never lost faith and kept at it, even when things looked bleak.

And now they can breathe a YUGE sigh of relief, knowing that they can comfortably afford to send their daughter to the Dream College she deserves.

That concludes today’s story time.

Speak soon,

-Andy “Never Give In, Never, Never, Never, Never” Lockwood

P.S.  My on-demand training on how do negotiate with a college is available here:

…but the price is going up at the end of the week.

One of the bonuses for the first 12 to enroll includes a 1:1 call with me, either at the outset or to review and or “punch up” your appeal letter before you send it in.

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