By: Levi Henrikson
Whether you are looking to provide yourself with an education or your children there are ways to afford a college tuition–even if it seems like you just don’t quite have enough money to make it. A lot of people don’t realize this but college tuitions, like any other free market service, are subject to the principles of free market and competition. This is good news for the potential student because it means you can often bargain your way to a better deal. Outside of perhaps Ivy League schools, where the demand is high and the supply low, any other college is likely subject to competitive pressure and probably desperate for cash so negotiating tactics can be quite effective.
The Psychology of Negotiating with Colleges
The mindset you need to have to bargain is to realize that you are the potential buyer not a beggar. You’re the one who brings the money. Unless the school is so unique that there is literally nothing else like it in the country, it’s not your only option. There is one of you and many of them.
Essentially, a college is selling a commodity: a degree. A degree is social proof that you can show up and do the work that is required of you without having to be supervised. Since potential employers want to hire self-motivated, reliable workers a degree is usually a critical asset to help land a job that pays better than flipping burgers.
But beyond that, what is the real difference whether you get a job at the University X or University Y? Again, unless you are applying for a school like MIT or Harvard, employers rarely ask for degrees from specific schools. So this puts you at an advantage when you apply for colleges.
Keys to Negotiating a Better Deal
The first key to negotiating is to remember that you have many options. Many colleges are desperate for cash and are not going to turn away $9K-$23K so readily. Know this going in and use it to your advantage.
Don’t approach the college like you are begging them to let you in. Make them sell themselves to you. Tell them that you have been accepted by several other colleges. Tell them that due to the cost and hassle of having to change locations you are looking for a “lower than normal” tuition cost.
Make them either give you a lower price or at least a compelling reason why you would want to pay the full price tag for admission.
If you want to be a really good bargainer, you should even reject their initial offers. Tell them its too high and simply not worth the trouble and expense for you to move down. Tactically, you have nothing to lose here. The worst that could happen is they don’t come down anymore and let their previous offer stand. It’s very rare in negotiating that someone will completely retract their offer if the other person asks for too low of a price. (If they do it’s likely just a bargaining tactic on their part.) Remember, they need your money. They are not going to let you walk away without at least a discussion or a “let me see what I can do.”
In the end, the key to negotiating is to not be attached to the outcome. You need to be literally willing to walk away from a college if they are not willing to work with you. After all, unless that college had a unique asset that you couldn’t get anywhere else, what have you got to lose.
One of Many Tools in Your Toolbox
Negotiating a lower to tuition cost is just one of many tools you can use to get a college degree at an affordable price. Remember that there are people out that want to help you. Don’t be ashamed to use inherited advantages such as ethnicity to lower your costs. Draw upon your past accomplishments such as military service to count as college credit and shorten the length of time you need to be in school. All in all, keep your eyes open and use every advantage you can get.