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Experts: Families Should Begin Negotiating With Colleges For More Financial Aid Due To COVID-19

NEW HYDE PARK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Millions of Americans are struggling financially as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and that is making many parents rethink plans for their college-bound kids.

Corinne O'Reilly is one of the many students from the Class of 2020 that has been impacted by the global health and economic crisis. O'Reilly was accepted to 14 colleges and her parents weren't initially thrilled with the financial aid offers they received. That changed once the O'Reillys learned they could negotiate with schools for more aid.

"I heard about that, and it makes sense," Chris O'Reilly told CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff on Monday "They replied within two or three days and we got about $14,000-15,000 off of our tab there."


As a result of the economic recession, experts believe it's actually a good time to bargain with schools because they're facing declining revenues. College advisor Andy Lockwood said colleges are bargaining more than ever. Lockwood recently published a piece about how to deal with colleges.

"Colleges, themselves, are scrambling to hit their enrollment targets," said Lockwood. "Many colleges have 20-30 or more percent of their student bodies represented from international students, but they as of now are not coming."

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Initial financial aid offers from colleges and universities are based on a family's 2018 income. However, Lockwood said it's impossible for a family to judged off that amount given what is going on right now.

"That's ancient history for many families hit hard by this recession from coronavirus," said Lockwood. "Colleges have what they call 'professional discretion' to be able to consider special circumstances."

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One student who recently got accepted to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in upstate New York told CBS2 they were originally offered a financial aid package with $29,000 coming off the price of tuition. After an appeal, the student received another $17,000 plus $5,500 came off.

Suzi Allen was the director of financial aid at the University of New Hampshire for decades and she called the process a conversation instead of a negotiation.

"The worst thing that will happen if you reach out is that your financial aid isn't going to change," said Allen. "But the best thing is that it is going to change and it could change substantially."

Experts say spell out your special circumstances on website forms by email or phone and be prepared with facts and figures in writing.

"I think at this time, I think a lot more schools are willing to listen," Chris O'Reilly said.

Turn-around time to get an answer could be a couple of days to a couple of weeks, so experts say the sooner the better to make the ask.

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