Users Log In   Become a Subscriber

ETC College Tuition Negotiator - User Guide (BETA)

We want to help you to pay the lowest tuition possible – period. What we’ll help you to do with this program is to select group of colleges that are of good value and then give you specific data points relating to enrollment, tuitions, grants and aid. All for the purpose of helping you get to the lowest price possible. Factor in with COVID-19 that enrollments are down for the coming class of freshmen, and you have an environment where the negotiating leverage as most colleges is clearly in students’ favor.

To begin, you’re should understand how college costs are structured. ‘Purchasing’ a college education is very different from most other expensive products or services. For example, when you buy a car, you start with a base price, and then you add on various options and features. Ultimately, you arrive at a final price.

The cost structure of college is completely reversed. You start with a ‘sticker price’ which is full price. Then, you try to determine what forms of aid might be available to you. Out of the dizzying array of aid that may or may not be available, you will arrive at a final number, the Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is what you’ll be asked to pay.

Is there a specific method to a college pricing structure? Yes, and here are the underlying principles. College tuitions are very much a taxation system, with credit given for academic competency. If you are a rich student with lousy grades, you are going pay close to sticker (full price). Conversely, a low income student with excellent grades will pay little or no tuition. Everyone else resides between those two extremes, and we’re going to show you the concepts behind the calculations.

Below is a listing of the major grants and aid that are available to students. We have organized this in a manner that represents the flow of going from ‘sticker price’, through the grants and aid that might be available, all the way to the final figure which is the Expected Family Contribution (EFC).

STICKER PRICE - this is the starting point. Almost no one pays this price.

FEDERAL AID - fill out the Federal Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) this is mandatory. Most schools won't even accept a student without this form and you have no chance at federal aid without completing the FAFSA. The good news is that the FAFSA is a 'global application', fill it out once and every school you apply to will be able access it through the Dept of Education.

STATE AID – if aid is available from the state you intend to go to school in, you’ll automatically receive be in line for state aid, if any is available to you. Your FAFSA filing automatically ‘signs you up’ for state aid.

INSTITUTIONAL AID OR GRANTS - this is what is highly negotiable. Institutional aid is money that is held by individual colleges and is allocated by the admissions office personnel. Institutional aid is given out by ‘admissions’ for the purpose of inducing a prospective student to enroll at that college. You need to keep in mind that their objective is to give out as little aid as possible, and still enroll.

SCHOLARSHIPS - fill out the College Student Scholarship Profile (CSS Profile) which is like a ‘FAFSA lite’.

EXPECTED FAMILY CONTRIBUTION (EFC) – this is the bottom line. When you receive an acceptance letter from a college, it will reference the EFC as a value they hope you will pay.


  1. Do your research! We can’t emphasize this strongly enough. Without research and homework, you can’t possibly know what to ask for. However, when you go into an admissions office and they can see that you’ve done your homework and you have a well informed and fact based position, you will be in a very strong position to earn what you are asking for.
  2. Print out the College Negotiator results page for each school that you are interested in.
  3. Consider using the College Admissions Probability Program which will calculate your actual likelihood of being accepted by your target colleges. Furthermore, it will provide you with your personalized EFC for each college. (Note- the College Admissions Probability Program is a fee based program: $10 per college or unlimited usage with a $25 per month subscription.)
  4. Use the College Business Plan program (it’s free) to develop a budget for all of your college costs. You will enter values from the College Admissions Probability Program into the ‘business plan’ program to help you determine which colleges are even financially feasible. In this budgeting process, you’ll gain incredible insights into the real costs of college and the enormous variances in costs from one college to another.
  5. Set ‘hard limits’ as to what you’re willing to allocate to tuitions for each college because those numbers are what you will be using to negotiate with when you talk to the college admissions officers.
  6. Arrange a discussion with the admissions representative (in person or by phone) for each college that you are contemplating.
    • Tell the admissions officer from each college that you are interviewing 6, 8, 10 different colleges and that cost is a primary consideration.
    • Inform these same admissions officers of your research, what your EFC should be for their college and ask them if they will meet your target cost.
  7. If they say they will, congratulations. Now you need to ‘paper the deal’. If they say they can’t meet your target, don’t close the door to a future discussion. They may call you back if they can’t fill seats at a higher price.

Lastly, you have very good college options in this current environment. Don’t negotiate against yourself by limiting those options. This is a good time to be cost conscious and make fiscally prudent decisions. 2 year colleges and public 4 year colleges have always offered excellent value in education. The wisest decision you could make would be to focus on an academic major that will be in demand as the labor market rebounds from this recession, while keeping your costs low.