Paying for College

Financial Aid 180

This is the time of year when big decisions are made: which college to choose from among the list of available candidates and perhaps most importantly, the effect of the financial aid package. Many high schools seniors and their families look to the aid package as a strong--if not THE--deciding factor when making college-choice decisions.

Of course, some financial aid decisions happen at application time. When high school seniors apply to colleges, they must indicate whether or not they will be requiring aid from the school. If they do, they check a box on the application form and then follow through by filling out the traditional aid forms: FAFSA, CSS Profile, and (for many private colleges) the school's own aid form.

This year, due to the unusually trying economic times, the ability of families to pay "full freight" has become a bit of an admissions advantage at many colleges. However, there has been an interesting development in the full-pay-applicants' "strategies" these day: waiting for the acceptance letter and then doing a 180 and requesting financial aid.

This approach is highlighted in an interesting article by Tamar Lewin: When Admitted Students Change Their Minds and Request Financial Aid. Here's an excerpt:

In families where the college admissions quest has all the fervor of a search for the Holy Grail, there is a widespread belief this year that students who can pay full freight have an advantage.

So it is not surprising that with so many parents looking for any edge to help their child into that one dream college, more families who do not originally request financial aid are changing their minds once their student is admitted.

Most years, Reed College, in Portland, Ore., gets about 50 calls from students who didn't apply for financial aid, got an offer of admission, and then decided to seek aid.

“This year, we're getting more of those calls, maybe 50 percent more, because all the uncertainty has parents wondering if they can really do this for four years," said Paul Marthers, the dean of admissions.

. . . Jeff Rickey, the dean of admissions at Earlham College in Indiana said there seem to be more calls this year from families who didn't originally apply for financial aid — some because of the recession and others, he suspects, because they thought applying as a full-pay student would boost their chances of admission.

“For students who come from places where they are coached in the game of college admissions, we know that some of them play that game," he said. “We aid folks at the very same levels we would have if they had informed us earlier. But it does cause me to question the ethics a student might be bringing to college. Fortunately, I very quickly forget which ones they were, so redemption is possible."

So, is it really need or gaming the system? Read the full article and decide for yourself. You may also want to voice your opinion (and see what others have said about this) on the College Confidential discussion forum. These are interesting times we live in.

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.