How to Earn a 50,000% Return

As I was deciding which law school to attend last month, I did something I never thought of doing when I was applying for college – I negotiated my financial aid package. My second choice school had offered me $10,000 more in scholarship, so with two weeks before the first deposit deadline, I wrote the dean of my first choice school a letter asking her to match my financial aid award and sent it via US Next Day Priority. Her office responded back within a week. Not only did they match the $10,000, they threw in another grand. I sent my deposit the next day.

The $19 postage I paid was one of the smartest investments I ever made. Honestly, even if my first choice school did not match the scholarship I received from the other school, I might still have gone. But the point is that there is no harm in trying; the worst thing that can happen is that my request is denied, in which case I am simply back where I started. And remember, the financial aid award is supposed to be similar for all three years of law school, so I really gained $33,000.

Here is a sample of my negotiation letter:

Dear Dean [ ],
 
I am writing to request consideration for merit aid from [School A]. I have been accepted at [School B] as well and they have offered me a [ ] scholarship, renewable during my second and third years.

I understand that there are limited funds and I am grateful for any consideration that [School A] can give to my request. [List the reasons why you would like to attend School A.] Unfortunately, both [School A] and [School B] are my top two choices and my decision will be greatly influenced by total cost of attendance.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and please let me know if I can be of any assistance.

My one advice is that you must negotiate in good faith. I sent the dean a copy of my financial aid letter from the other school and made good on my word of attending the school once they matched the difference. This advice also applies to salary negotiations for those of you in the job market. In this downturn economy, it still makes sense to negotiate your salary if you received a higher offer elsewhere. Even if your dream school/job cannot match the scholarship/salary, you are still in control of the decision as to where to go. The old adage “your future is in your hands” is certainly true here.

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