Applying for financial aid seems like a no-brainer during the college admissions process. After all, college costs are higher than ever, and the economic downturn left many families unable to contribute much to their child’s education fund. It can’t hurt to at least apply, right?
Unfortunately, these days applying for financial aid at some schools may actually hurt a students’ chances of admission.
The New York Times recently looked at Grinnell College, a small liberal arts school in Iowa, is one of very few schools that operates on a completely need-blind basis for admissions — and commits to meeting 100% of the financial need for each of its accepted students. As college endowments shrink, policies like Grinnell’s have become increasingly rare.
The majority of colleges and universities in the United States today are “‘need-aware’–meaning that the colleges accept most of their students without looking at their need for aid but will consider financial need for some percentage of the applicants. Others are already considering a parent’s ability to pay in many of their admissions decisions” (NYT).
How much does your financial situation really matter?
Parents and students understandably want to know how much their ability to pay for college actually affects whether or not a student will be accepted. The answer varies widely by school, and may depend on how selective or prestigious the college is, as well as the state of the school’s endowment. Colleges strapped for cash may pay more attention to how much financial aid they grant.
If you truly can’t afford to pay full tuition, submitting a financial aid form is the best course of action. After all, if your child gets admitted to his or her first-choice college but can’t afford to go there, is that any better than not getting in at all? Think carefully about what you can afford and consider less prestigious schools where your child may qualify for more merit scholarships and non need-based financial aid.
Leveling the playing field
My college granted me about half my tuition in financial aid, and I still have massive loans to pay off. Simply put, I would not have been able to attend that college without the generous aid provided. With less aid available, finding ways to provide equal opportunities for students from low and moderate income families is a real challenge.
Merit scholarships are one area where students can vie for tuition dollars based purely on their grades, test scores and academic and extracurricular accomplishments. Financial aid in the form of loans and campus work-study jobs also provide opportunities to help students pay for college without immediate cost to the school.
One important thing to remember is that thinking about how much you can afford to pay and how much debt you’re willing to take on to put your children through school is the first step of any financial aid process — whether you decide to apply or not.
Photo credit: Ryan Hyde