With only one more month left of summer vacation until the start of school for students, many universities like Harvard and Princeton have already announced their plans for the fall with continued remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While this may be the new normal, it’s an uncertain reality for many parents like David Vogel, whose son Ryan is supposed to be heading to college at the University of Pittsburgh next month.
“He’s really looking forward to this next chapter in his life and going to college and what that has to offer for him moving forward,” said Vogel. “Even though we’re in July right now and my son is supposed to go to school in August, we really still don’t know what that’s going to look like.”
In a story first reported in the Wall Street Journal, financing college is a major question asked by parents for the upcoming school year, as many schools are not reducing tuition despite how different the experience may be this fall.
“Overall, we haven’t seen tremendous amounts of shifting in the sticker price for college,” said Shannon Vasconcelos, the director of College Finance for Bright Horizons College Coach told “Good Morning America.” “Colleges for the most part are charging about the same in this post-covid world as they did in the pre-covid world in terms of their sticker price … We haven’t seen very many colleges announcing any tuition reductions as of yet.”
Vasconcelos, who helps families finance their kids’ college education, teaches them about how to save for college, as well as teaches students about how to pay for college through financial aid and scholarships, said that during these unprecedented times, families are in a good position to negotiate the amount of tuition for the upcoming school year.
“Colleges are anxious about filling their seats for the upcoming school year,” she said. “They may be willing to provide a student with a few thousand dollars discounts if they think it will get that student there and get them to pay the rest of that 10, 20, 50 thousand dollar tuition.”
The average cost of a four-year degree at a public school is over $41,000 for an in-state student and over $107,000 for an out-of-state student, according to the college board.
And as Vasconcelos says she hasn’t seen tuition change, analysts also predict that the cost of college may affect enrollment. According to Fitch Ratings, they anticipate a decline ranging from 5 to 20% as a result of the pandemic.
For David Vogel, who was able to negotiate his daughter’s college tuition three years ago with the help of Joel Peck, the founder of Getting Money for College, negotiating college tuition is nothing new. Vogel said he was able to save $20,000 on his daughter’s education.
“I came to learn that college tuition is actually negotiable,” he said. “I guess what many of us don’t realize is that most things in life are negotiable. And why wouldn't a college education?”
When it came time to negotiate for his son, he was ready, even though it was different than the first time he tried his hand at negotiating.
“It’s an in-person experience,” said Vogel, who had to speak with his son’s school over Zoom. “How is that going to be replicated in this new paradigm? Is that the same value proposition that they were delivering before?”
Nevertheless, Vogel treated the digital conversation like an in-person experience and discussed how his business has suffered during the pandemic, the value his son would bring to the university and all in all, was able to save over $8,000 over the four years of his son’s college education.
“If you don’t ask, the answer is no,” said Vogel. “What do you have to lose by reaching out and investing a little time? If it saves you a thousand dollars, it saves you $20,000. It’s a great return on investment.”
Ready to save and negotiate on the cost of college? Here are some of Vasconscelos’s top tips on how to start.
1. Find the correct office to contact
If you have received need-based financial aid and have experienced a change in circumstances, Shannon says you’d want to address your letter to the financial aid office. But if you received a merit scholarship and you’re asking for more merit scholarship funding, then you should address your letter to the admissions office.
2. Make it personal
What’s most important is what you write in the letter. “You don’t want to give them the impression that you’re sending this letter to 10 different schools,” said Shannon. “You absolutely want to personalize the e-mail to that school, tell them why you’re exciting and why you’re excited about attending, but money is holding you back.”
3. Provide details
Shannon says that if you have experienced a change in circumstances, you should document that change in financial circumstances. “Lay out facts, figures, dates, document everything,” said Shannon. “Financial aid offices love documentation.” This includes better offers from other schools, if any. Shannon says that including those are important so that the admissions office knows that you’re not bluffing.
4. Don’t ask for too much
“Colleges don’t necessarily have a ton of money to play with right now, but if you can convey in your request that a small amount of give on their end will make a big difference to your enrollment decision, that is when colleges are most likely to be willing to work with you and increase your funding levels,” said Shannon.
She also said to ask if there are additional funds that you could apply for to make the attendance more feasible.