Thanks so much for this thread! It literally helped me save $90,000. My story:
I was accepted at UCLA with $60k. I was then offered $75k at BU. I tried to negotiate UCLA up. They didn't budge on scholarships, but they did offer need-based aid that I hadn't realized I would qualify for/they hadn't seemed to consider me for before, which brought me up close to $90,000.
Later this summer, I was accepted off the waitlist at Duke and UVA. I wrote to the Dean at UCLA about this, saying I was tempted by the prestige these schools could offer/job opportunities that might outweigh the financial aid from UCLA. They responded later that day with another $30,000, bringing me to just about $120,000. (This, by the way, happened before Duke even offered me a $48k scholarship. You totally can get scholarships off the waitlist!)
Then, just recently, I got in off Michigan's waitlist. I told Michigan about my offer at UCLA and they offered me $60,000. I told UCLA that I was strongly considering Michigan (I swear, I wasn't even trying to negotiate at that point...I was seriously about to attend Michigan) and the Dean called me with ANOTHER $30,000.
I chose UCLA. At this point, they are literally paying me to attend. All in all, I talked them up $90,000. Granted, I had some decent leverage, all conveniently spaced out, thanks to waitlist. But still, this is rather ridiculous--especially considering my LSAT is exactly UCLA's average. I'm not exactly Harvard material that they were trying to win over.
My final advice:
1) stay on waitlists, even if you aren't super interested in the schools. First, you could be surprised at how your desires change over the cycle (I originally hadn't been very interested in either UCLA or Michigan, but ended up falling in love with both schools). Waitlists can work out quite well if you wait until the bitter end, and they give you much-needed leverage.
2) Ask about need-based aid. You may not qualify, but it doesn't hurt to ask. Most schools denied me flat-out for need-based help, but UCLA gave me tons. You never know how each school does its calculation.
3) Don't be afraid to try to start a bidding war. I never was able to get a real one going, but there is nothing wrong with using School A's scholarship offer to leverage School B into a better deal and then taking B's increased offer back to A. Some people quit after just one round, but I don't see the need. Every time I got off a waitlist, I told the school about UCLA's offer and then took that school's counter-offer back to UCLA. I'd have nothing right now if I hadn't done that.
4) NEVER be afraid to ask for more money. UCLA did say no to me once when I was accepted off Penn's waitlist. But then, just a couple weeks later, when Michigan accepted me, they were much more ready to negotiate, even though Penn and Michigan are peers. Just keep trying! As long as you are polite and not an ass, there is no harm done.
5) Don't listen to naysayers. SO many times, my friends and family told me to stop negotiating, that I had talked UCLA up as much as possible and should be careful not to piss them off. But UCLA never once seemed annoyed with me. Now, my friends and family all think I am amazing for getting so much money and apologized for trying to dissuade me. Now I am going to law school for free!
Hope this helps. Get that money!