By Dave Carpenter, AP Personal Finance Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — Cutting a better deal on college financial aid can be more than a parent's fantasy.
Increasingly, private schools are quietly using the practice to help attract the students they want in a challenging economy.
The practice of increasing aid on request has emerged relatively recently as college tuition has soared almost out of reach for ordinary families, according to Bruce Hammond, an independent college counselor based in Charlottesville, Va.
Now, many higher-priced schools hold back some money for select students who might be on the fence about whether to attend.
"I routinely advise my students, 'Ask politely for more,'" says Hammond, co-author of "The Fiske Guide to Getting Into the Right College." ''The recession may have made institutions a little more likely to deal."
The tactic may come in handy this month as admitted students and their parents weigh which school to attend. All but the most generous of the financial aid packages mailed out nationwide in March and April leave families still looking at huge cost commitments over four years.
The average list price of tuition and fees for the current academic year is $26,273 at private colleges and $7,020 for in-state students at public universities, according to the College Board — up 4.4% and 6.5% respectively from a year ago.
A sizable amount of financial assistance is available. Grants and tax benefits total an estimated average of $14,400 per student at private universities and $5,400 at public schools. Still, once you add in room and board, it's easy to run up a tab of $100,000 or more over four years.
Coupled with a tough economy, it's no wonder more families are applying for financial aid than ever before. Applications for federal student aid rose 21% to 6.6 million in last year's first quarter, the peak period for applications, in the aftermath of the meltdown and are expected to increase again this year.