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So you're talking to a professor at visiting weekend, and he/she says, "What other places are you considering?" And you say, "Well, I really love Your University's program, but X University has offered me very attractive funding." And the professor says,"Hmmm," and "What have they offered you?" And goes back to the department to say, "I think we're going to lose rlayla to XU if we don't up our funding offer."

The same exchange can happen by phone or email, too.

I'm not negotiating, because I don't have any leverage. The two places I got in offered me nearly identical funding (except the one sociology program, which wasn't really the best place for me anyway).

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The key to negotiating is definitely to have better offers. This is true every time I've ever negotiated anything, including raises at work, the option of designing a class, etc.

Presumably the departments are doing at least some recruiting, so when you get emails from professors (or when you email a professor and then he or she writes back and you thus have a correspondence), you can ask questions about the program (what are you working on, what opportunities are there for studying [Z random interest], what kind of institutional support is there, where do you see the department going), and finish up with, "I really love everything I know about YU's program, but the funding package at XU is very appealing."

This might not work, and definitely won't work if XU hasn't actually offered you a better deal, but I think it's got the best shot. It's honest, it's not manipulative, and it gives the department a chance to match someone else's offer.

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BIG issue here. Not all departments can offer you more. For example, at my school the stipends are set by the graduate school. Everyone gets the same exact funding and nothing you can do about it. At most you can try to ask for some guaranteed summer funding or stuff that doesn't cost money.

However, at other schools the departments get a pot of money from the graduate school and are free to distribute it anyway they want. So there you can definitely ask for more money. However, they already decided how much to offer you and unless you have strong offers from other programs they are not likely to give you more.

So before you haggle, find out what the deal is at each department, which ones give are open to negotiation and which ones are not, and go from there. Also, keep in mind that what has been the norm in the past might changing this year as budgets are shrinking.

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Yeah, I'd just suggest contacting the DGS and saying something like "I know this is a tight year in terms of funding, but I wondered if there was any possibly of flexibility in my package. I really like your program, but the offer just isn't in line with what I've received from other schools." Worst that can happen is you're told "no." If there's a particular professor who's trying hard to recruit you, you could also ask him/her whether the department has historically had any ability to match offers from other schools. He/she may offer to go to bat with the DGS for you (or even a Dean/Provost, if there's money available higher up).

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