Many college students and parents do not realize that financial aid offers can be negotiated. 

The rising cost of college tuition means that most families have to rely on financial aid and supplement any gaps with student loans. But many people don’t realize that financial aid offers can be fair game for negotiation.

In fact, there is quite a bit of bartering that goes on during the college admissions process, according to Nick Ducoff, co-founder and CEO of the Boston startup Edmit. Most colleges spend a lot of money recruiting students in order to hit their yearly enrollment goals, Boston’s WBUR reported.

This is a subject Ducoff is well-versed in; his company has an app that advises families on what kinds of deals various colleges are willing to offer. For a $99 fee, the average Edmit customer is able to save an extra $5,000 a year in tuition.

For instance, one of Edmit’s customers is a single mother and teacher. She wrote letters to three different colleges appealing their initial financial aid offers for her daughter.

One of the colleges didn’t offer any additional funds. But the one she ended up choosing offered nearly a $10,000 break on tuition each year and she’s paying roughly a third of what she would have paid otherwise.

It’s not just low-income families that struggle to pay hefty tuition rates; middle-income families often have a hard time as well.

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Sabrina Manville, the co-founder of Edmit, told WBUR that middle-income families often can’t afford college tuition but don’t qualify for need-based aid. In fact, Edmit said the average clients they serve are families earning between $70,000 and $130,000 a year.

Most colleges are competing for students whose families can afford to pay the yearly tuition rates. This is why some schools are transitioning to offering merit-based aid instead of just need-based aid.

Merit-based aid is usually based on academic success, athletic success, or some other type of achievement. This allows colleges to enroll students whose families are able to pay the yearly tuition. Most schools don’t have large endowments so this steady stream of income is important.

Research has shown that as more high-income families receive merit aid there is less need-based aid available for low and middle-income families. Ducoff said this is a big part of what’s causing the substantial increase in student loan debt in the United States.

Writing an effective financial aid appeal letter could lead to reducing or eliminating the need for student loans. But that might require providing more documentation to show need or merit. Be prepared to present a strong case for better financial aid. In any case, it doesn’t hurt to ask – and you could potentially save thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.