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Panel of Experts

Karl Schellscheidt

SAT Prep Expert

  • BSE, Princeton University '90
  • M.A., Secondary Education Seton Hall University '93
  • J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School '00

Fred Hargadon

Dean of Admission

  • Swarthmore College
    (1964-1969)
  • Stanford University
    (1969-1984)
  • Princeton University
    (1988-2003)

Don Betterton

Financial Aid Expert

  • Director of Financial Aid, Princeton University (1973-2006)
  • Certified College Planner
  • Principal, Betterton College Planning

Seamus Malin

Admission Expert

  • Harvard University
    Dir. of Financial Aid
    (1966-1977)
    Asst. Dean of Admission
    (1977-1987)
    International Office Director
    (1987-2002)

Admissions and the Global Financial Crisis

Karl Schellscheidt

college admissions expert advice from eprep.comA few of my private-tutoring students recently asked me whether colleges today are strongly considering the financial need of applicants when making admission decisions. My response: With college endowments plummeting across the nation, I don’t see how most schools can ignore the financial need of applicants. After all, colleges and universities are businesses.

When I recently asked Peter Van Buskirk of The Admission Game to comment, he offered to share a blog he recently posted on his website. His blog post appears below:

How Should You Check the Financial Aid Box?
The line on applications for admission that makes parents shudder most is the one that reads, “Do you plan to apply for financial aid—Yes or No?” As eager as one might be to check “yes” with the hope of receiving some type of assistance, there is a growing reluctance to do so for fear that checking “yes” might compromise the student’s chances of gaining admission.

This conundrum hits close to home in the current economy when even families who live in relative comfort are suddenly faced with uncertainty regarding cash for college. As the need for some type of assistance (merit scholarships, loans, campus work study) becomes more acute, so does the angst with regard to how that expression of need might be interpreted in the admission process.

Will institutions discriminate in the admission process with regard to a family’s ability to pay? Sure. However, they are not likely to do so based solely on the response to the “Yes/No” question. Rather, they will discriminate at the back end of the process when they have a full view of all the candidates they like as well as the respective financial needs for those candidates. It is at this point when they can see the big picture that they determine how to use available funds to leverage the enrollment of the students whom they value most.

Discriminating against students solely on the basis of who checks “Yes” to the financial aid question would be foolish. Roughly one-third of applicants for admission who check “Yes” indicating that they intend to apply for financial aid either never apply—because they realize they don’t need it—or they do apply and demonstrate that they don’t need it! Discriminating based on a “Yes” response means an admission committee will arbitrarily eliminate one-third of its applicants—many of whom would not have required institutional assistance.

So, what do you do? First, respond honestly. If you think you need assistance, say so. By acknowledging the possibility you enable an admission officer who is interested in your candidacy to track the progress of your financial aid application. If anything is missing, late, or incomplete, s/he can let you know in a timely fashion. And second, trust in the fact that colleges that value you for what you do well will admit you and give you what you need financially in order for you to enroll.

What you DON’T want to do is scheme the process. Don’t pretend to be “rich” by putting all of the money you have saved for college into your first year in order to improve your chances of getting in—and then expect to receive financial aid in subsequent years because you’ll be so darn poor you need it! Colleges budget financial aid for years two, three and four of your enrollment based on the expectations of year one. If you look “rich” when you apply, they expect you to be “rich” in the years that follow. If you plead poverty after your first year without evidence that something catastrophic (serious illness, injury, death, or loss of employment) has affected your family’s financial picture, don’t be surprised if the response of your financial aid officer is simply, “That’s your problem.” This is when families—and students in particular—start borrowing beyond their means to stay in school.

I would like to offer a couple of related thoughts. One, if you know you don’t require institutionally funded need-based assistance but anticipate applying for a Guaranteed Student Loan (Stafford) or you hope to secure a part-time job on campus, be prepared to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as institutions will use that to determine your eligibility for federally subsidized programs on their respective campuses.

Two, if you would like to be considered for any merit scholarships offered by a college or university, look for evidence that the school in question may actually offer such awards. If they do, find out about the eligibility criterion and protocols for placing yourself into consideration for an award. Most schools will have separate evaluation processes in place to determine merit scholarship recipients apart from the “Yes/No” question discussed previously.

Finally, when in doubt about what to do, check with the financial aid officers of the school(s) in question. It is better to move forward with good information than to discover too late that you have misinterpreted the process.

Special Note! The Best College Fit Membership program is about to launch! Watch for details to learn more about how you can go inside the college planning process with me to find and get into the schools that best fits for you! www.theadmissiongame.com

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