Negotiations play a large role in the world of business, and the art of the deal will – no doubt – be a subject of much discussion during your MBA program.
And while your negotiation skills will surely improve over the course of your studies, you may get a chance to test those skills before you ever set foot in a business school classroom. When it comes to financial aid for your MBA program, there’s no need to accept a school’s first offer.
Here are six tips on how to ask a business school for more money:
1. Special circumstances. Do you have financial circumstances that weren’t clearly reflected on your initial financial aid application? Perhaps your income has decreased since last year or you’ve experienced a divorce or death in the family. Are you still paying back student loans for your undergraduate degree, or paying for daycare, private schooling, or college for your children? Perhaps you have high out-of-pocket medical expenses or you’re supporting an elderly relative or family overseas. Or might last year’s income have been artificially inflated by an unusually large bonus or capital gain? These are all situations quite relevant to your ability to pay for business school, but they aren’t typically asked about on a financial aid application. It is up to you to bring these circumstances up to the schools you’ve been accepted to and ask them for reconsideration of an aid offer.
2. Better offers. Maybe none of the above applies to you and your financial circumstances, for better or worse, are quite vanilla. Does that mean you can’t ask for more money? Certainly not. If you’re a top-notch MBA candidate and have received higher scholarship or fellowship offers from other business schools, share those offers with the school who has offered less. Let them know they’re your first choice, but it’s just the money holding you back. You may be surprised at how the prospect of another b-school luring you away with a more substantial award may make additional assistance suddenly appear.
3. Put it in writing. While many MBA candidates’ first inclination is to get a decision-maker on the phone and use their verbal powers of persuasion to score a more lucrative offer, your best bet is to—at least initially—put your case in writing. Lay out your request on paper (these days, email…) and let it get to the appropriate party so that they can act as your advocate in this negotiation process. At most schools, the Admissions Office controls merit-based scholarship funding and the Financial Aid Office controls need-based grant funding. If both types of assistance might be in play, it wouldn’t hurt to send an email to both offices.
4. Follow up by phone. Having made your case in writing, I wouldn’t hesitate to follow up with a phone call. Give the school a little processing time—maybe a week or two—then give them a call, explaining that you are following up on your email. Be polite, asking them if they need any more information from you or if they have any updates. A little personal touch may help, and you certainly don’t want your request left sitting at the bottom of a pile on somebody’s desk or unread in their inbox.
5. Provide documentation. Whatever the basis of your appeal, document it. Loss of income, unusually high expenses, one-time gains? Send paystubs, receipts, tax forms…. Financial aid offices need facts, figures, and documentation to work with. Make it easy for them to justify an increased award. Negotiating based upon better offers from other programs? Attach those offers—let the school you’re dealing with know you’re not bluffing.
6. Submit early. More often than not, funding dwindles as time goes on and deposits start rolling in. Submit your appeal early, while schools are still working to recruit their classes and are likely at their most generous points.
However you approach the negotiation, know that there is no downside to making the appeal. As long as you’re respectful, a b-school will not rescind an acceptance—or a scholarship—because you’ve asked for more. Will your appeal always be successful? Definitely not. Some schools are firm in their initial offers, and some schools simply don’t offer aid of one type or another—merit or need-based—to their MBA students. But no harm will come of the request. The worst they’ll do is say “no,” and you’ll have to make your enrollment decision from there. I would, however, encourage you to give your negotiation skills a shot. You might be surprised at how often schools say “yes,” giving a boost to both your finances and your confidence in closing the deal.”
By Shannon Vasconcelos, Director of College Finance at College Coach. College Coach is the nation’s leading provider of educational advisory services to organizations and families. At College Coach, Ms. Vasconcelos delivers workshops and provides individual counseling on the college finance process to employees at over 100 companies nationwide. She helps parents and students understand the processes of saving for college, paying for college, and education loan repayment, and maximize the tax break, financial aid, and scholarship resources available to them in a family-focused and ethical way.
An excerpt of this article was originally published in Forbes on February 23, 2018.