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Always Ask For More Money

I was pretty excited when I was accepted into my graduate program at Columbia University. I had only applied to one program, so it was going to be all or nothing. Columbia had overnighted the acceptance letter to me, so I pretty much knew I had gotten in before I opened the envelope (who would pay an overnight fee to reject someone?). But then I received a letter letting me know how much the university was going to give me:


I wanted more. I needed more. 

Tuition and fees were going to be about $44,000, and I also needed money for living expenses. One of the things you have to do when you’re applying to Columbia’s journalism program is take a writing test proctored by an alumnus of the graduate school. After I was accepted, I emailed my proctor asking her for tips, and she gave me a lot of great advice about choosing a place to live in New York, which classes were worth taking, and ended her email with the best tip of all: “By the way, don’t hesitate to go straight to [the dean of admissions and financial aid] and ask for more money. I badgered him enough to get a few more grants to cover expenses.”

I was young, and had little experience with negotiating money, so if she hadn’t tacked on that last bit of crucial advice at the end of the email, I would have never thought of simply asking for more money. It’s one of those things you need to learn as early in your life as possible: If you don’t ask for something, you don’t get it.

So, I asked for it. And when I was initially turned down, I asked for it again. My proctor ended up being right: If you plead your case long enough, and do it as politely as possible, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with more money. While I was in school, I received an additional $10,000.

I took this experience with me after I graduated and got a few job offers. Can’t get your employer to budge on the salary? Maybe you can get an extra vacation day. Lather, rinse, repeat: If you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it.


8 Comments / Post A Comment

nyikin (#32)

BUT HOW? “Dear Financial Aid Office, Please give me more money so I can attend your fine institution?” Or is there anything else to cover?

Btw, this post is mad timely.

Mike Dang (#2)

@nyikin Pretty much! I think it helped that I met the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at a cocktail mixer, so he could put a face to a name when I asked him if I could have more money to cover expenses. You can say that you may not be able to do the program because it’s not financially feasible for you otherwise, which is a true statement. Especially if you are entering into a competitive program, they chose you among many for a reason. They want you there. They’re not going to let you go that easily.

It also helps if you have been admitted elsewhere. I had a friend who was able to say, “Well, [x] other school is offering me more money,” and when they heard that, they offered him more in aid and scholarships.

nyikin (#32)

@Mike Dang OK, I AM GOING TO TRY IT. Thanks!

I just recently changed jobs, and when asked for my salary requirements, I gave them a number that was 20% more than what I was currently making. I ended up getting 12% more than the previous salary. Going big worked out well for me!

Dear University Students,

Please don’t expect that this will always work. Maybe the poster went to a crap school or was underinformed, but we don’t just have sacks of cash that we hide in the closet until somebody begs hard enough.

Somebody Who Works in a University Financial Aid Office

Mike Dang (#2)

@Robin R@twitter Of course it won’t always work. Everyone is in a different situation. But the point is to go ahead and try asking (and doing it politely), because not asking won’t get you anything. At least asking will get you an answer. As I said, this doesn’t just apply to college, but other situations you will come across in your life when money is involved.

Also, I don’t think I went to a crap school.

cmcm (#267)

It’s funny, because I was literally just having a conversation with a friend of mine about how I got offered a $18,000 PhD fellowship. She asked if I could negotiate for more and I was like, “Um, no, that’s now how it works!” I may very well be right, but the fact is you make a good point- you don’t know if you don’t ask for it.

@Mike Dang
You’re right – maybe I wasn’t clear about that. A good rule in life is to always ask for opportunities, because the worst you’ll hear is no. And sorry, I didn’t mean to denigrate your school. I just find it surprising that they offered you less than they were willing to provide you. Maybe it’s an American thing.

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