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School For Less:

How To Negotiate The Cost Of Your College Tuition


my story



Education is weird. What does the word even mean these days? Classrooms? Tests? Lectures? The reality for many kids today is that it can mean deceptive marketing, bloated tuitions, and dry academic knowledge leading promptly to underemployment. But let’s put aside the fact that most other industrialized countries offer access to tuition-free, high-quality universities, and that some even pay students a monthly allowance for food and rent expenses simply for enrolling.

Despite being a generally unimpressive person, I’ve been fortunate enough to stumble upon ways to hack the educational model by simply bypassing the gatekeepers and making an ask to the right person, resulting in discounts on my tuition to the tune of thousands of dollars. I wanted to write a bit to get us thinking about how to get an education on our terms.  So let’s figure out how to game an American educational system that is clearly out of whack, because, let’s face it, it may well not improve.

Why Are You In School Again?


Before we explore strategy, we must recognize that we have been fed a lie -- a pretty insidious one. It’s the idea that the best way to explore one’s passions is to spend thousands of dollars for a college degree. The reality is that digging yourself a hole of student loan debt without extremely deliberate planning will likely prevent you from exploring your passions by trapping you in jobs to pay back that debt.

Like most good lies, it preys upon fear: the fear of being stupid, of being jobless, of being poor. The reality is that there are thousands of ways to explore your passions that are not only free or cheap, but much more impressive to future employers, whether that be digital learning, traveling, entrepreneurship, language learning, investing, or volunteering abroad.

If you’re offered a full ride to a great school or have a subject you absolutely love and know you want to study it in an academic environment, that’s one thing. But, if your goal is to explore your passions, or yourself, consider all your options.

Know The System To Beat The System

So, you’re sure college is for you. Now, time to do your real homework. Get to know the hierarchy of your University. Know it’s size, organizational structure, and sources of funding. The good news is that most Universities offer this information freely on their website. The goal is to get to know the important, day-to-day decision-making figures and their respective position in the school’s hierarchy. Your strategy will vary greatly depending on your school’s structure.

Choose Your Target

Next, you’ll want to hone in on a specific person, or, more accurately, a specific level of hierarchy in your college. For me, in a small, private business school, this was the C.O.O.

What you’re looking for, we could say, is the middle-management of the school. So, probably not the highest President/Dean level (these people are often difficult to reach, but if you have an in, go for it) and certainly not the front-facing employees like Professors, Financial Aid Reps, or Councilors. You’re looking for people at the level responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of their front-facing subordinates.

Finding the right organizational level is more important than the right person because people of the same level are typically colleagues and will often have personal and/or professional relationships.

Finally, pick a specific person who you think will be receptive to your pitch, and research their position in the University.

Get In A Room With The Right Person


Assuming you can't get a warm intro, write up an ultra formal email addressed to your target. This thing should look beautiful. Spacing, vocabulary, and spelling should all be impeccable. Keep it short and pitch your target to interview them as a source for one of the many research papers you are undoubtedly writing in college that relates to their position in the school. Ideally, this is also a subject that your target is genuinely interested in and passionate about.

In the email, include:

- Why you’re passionate about the interview topic yourself

- That you are extremely flexible to work around their schedule

- Some personal information about their position or work to show you did your research

- Why you think they would be a perfect interviewee for your paper

Close your body paragraph with an “out,” such as: “If you can’t meet, I completely understand. But it would mean a lot if you could take even a few minutes when you have the time.”

Put Your Game Face On

Do your research, know your topic, and kill the interview. You should do your best to know more about the topic under discussion than your target. All this is for the goal of having your target see you as an equal, not a student. Dressing somewhat formally can also be useful for this purpose.

You’re breaking down the student-teacher relationship so that you can communicate as an intellectual equal. You're doing so by engaging them in a field of mutual interest. Keep in mind that if your pitch doesn’t work out, the worst case scenario is that you end up with a kick-ass paper. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Make Your Pitch


After concluding the interview, smoothly transition to your pitch. Consider something like: “Thanks so much for taking the time. I just have one more thing to run by you.”

Your pitch will be completely unique to you and your background. But, keep the following principles in mind:

-  Put An Emphasis On Your Story: What Led You To Where You Are Now?  

-  Appeal To Rationality And Reason With Logical Arguments: You’re Probably Pitching To An Academic That Values Intellectual Vigor

-  Project Strength: Do Not Tell A Sob Story, Or Try To Appeal To Your Target’s Sense of Pity Or Sympathy. People Are Not Moved to Action by Those Emotions.

-  Appeal To Your Target’s Self Interest: Your Target Should Feel Empowered To Have ‘Discovered’ Such A Driven Student And A Sense Of Pride That They Could Help You Succeed. They Should Perceive Helping You As A Personal Win.

-  Make A Specific Ask: Conclude With The Exact Dollar Amount You're Looking For, And Don't Be Conservative

-  Use Silence: After Your Pitch, Stop Talking. Leave A Space For Reflection. People Like To Feel That They Are Reaching Their Own Decisions

Find The Right Channel

Despite your research, it’s very likely that your target will not have the direct authority to grant your request. But, as long as you’ve targeted a person in the right level of your school hierarchy, chances are that he/she has a professional or personal relationship with the person who can. Now you have an ally.

Get a warm intro from your original target to the right person if you need to, and send them an email following the same guidelines above.. Use the same tips mentioned earlier to make your pitch again, and follow up politely but relentlessly after the meeting.

Why Not?

While these strategies may not work for everyone, they worked surprisingly well for me, and have the potential to be effective for many others. The bottom line is that you have nothing to lose. The worst case scenario is that you make some great connections with higher-ups in your university that will likely be more valuable than most of the stuff you learn in class. Why not take a shot at taking the price of your education into your own hands?



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