Effect of Financial Need on College Acceptance

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Is it harder to get in to a small liberal arts college if we need financial aid?

Jan 2015

I am wondering if it is harder to get in to many of the smaller liberal arts colleges because of the need for financial aid. Our daughter has applied to several of the liberal arts colleges, but then we also filled out the financial aid forms. If we do not have a lot of financial resources, is she less likely to be accepted? Which schools are more interested in full pay students??
concerned about acceptances

I think we can all speculate but ultimately you won't know until you try. There are just too many factors. I personally would expect that the offer of admission and the offer of financial aid would be a separate process on the school's side, but I don't know. And what's true for one is not necessarily true for another. Even the CSUs differ widely in many areas, so who's to say about independent colleges?

What matters is that you fill out the FAFSA (google it if you aren't familiar with it). This is mandatory. A lot of financial aid will come to you just through that process alone. I'm always surprised that some people don't know about it. good luck; we're doing it too

Yes, in general students from families with fewer resources get fewer offers of admissions. Which kind of makes sense because most schools don't have enough financial aids for everyone and don't want to makes lots of offers to people who clearly couldn't afford it - because that disappoints people, but also because low ''yield'' rates (students accepted who actually enroll) make schools look bad. For more info: http://chronicle.com/blogs/headcount/navigating-need-blind-and-need-aware-admissions/32574 The annoying thing is that they don't tell you this: unless you're really rich, you won't know if you were rejected because of your probable inability to pay or because of other qualifications.

However, each school chooses differently, and since each student has different qualities, it's really hard to predict individual cases. I think you just have to wait and see what happens. Good luck! Professor and mom

Unfortunately, practically all colleges in the USA discriminate on the basis of parental financial resources. Of the major universities, only Caltech doesn't offer legacy admissions preferential treatment. I am reluctant to donate to my Ivy League alma mater because it continues to prefer alumni kids and rich kids.

I suggest your child apply to the very few free prestigious colleges: Berea, West Point, the US Air Force Academy in Colorado, or the US Naval Academy in Maryland.

Otherwise, the best way to get into a good college is fantastic grades, great standardized test scores, or another extraordinary talent. End Legacy Admissions !

This is in response to the person that wondered if her daughter might get rejected from small liberal arts colleges because she needs financial aid. Some schools are called ''need-blind'' which means they don't take your financial situation into consideration. The problem is that they may accept you, but the amount of aid may not be enough to address your needs.

Rather than worry about which colleges you ''should'' have applied to, I suggest going to each of your colleges' websites and do a search for ''net price calculator.'' Enter all your info into it and it will give you a ballpark figure of the amount you will need to come up with after they deduct the grants and scholarships they will most likely offer you.

Schools typically do their best to cover enough to make it affordable if they have the resources. In addition, if your family income is under $78K - $100K (depending on family size), you are eligible for at least a Cal Grant A, which would be about $8K a year for a private school in California.

There's also work study, Pell grants and federal loans. You can determine the amount of federal loans and grants you'll probably get at https://fafsa.ed.gov/FAFSA/app/f4cForm?execution=e1s1

I hope this helps. I am a college and career adviser, so if you need more help, you can email me and we can set up an appointment. Lisa

This is one of the million dollar questions of college admissions! The short answer is that it depends on the college, and it depends on your daughter as an applicant.

Unfortunately, it is true that many colleges are now favoring ''full-pay'' applicants. It's been discussed a lot in college advising circles and newspaper articles. It's a very frustrating situation, and you're definitely not the only one worried about this.

There are colleges that practice ''need-blind admissions,'' - Wikipedia has a page that breaks it down: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Need-blind_admission But for schools that are NOT need-blind, it's difficult to know what role financial need plays in admissions. It is all very strategic for the colleges, as their goals is to get the strongest, most well-rounded freshmen class they possibly can with whatever financial aid they have at their disposal. Decisions take place behind closed doors, and colleges are notoriously secretive about it.

On a positive note, it doesn't mean that your daughter will be rejected by a college simply because she has higher financial need. Ultimately, it depends on how competitive she is as an applicant, compared to the rest of the applicant pool at a particular college. If she's at the top of the applicant pool and very desirable to the college, the college is more likely to accept her and meet her financial need. And vice versa if she's at the lower end of the applicant pool.

Another possibility is that she will be ''gapped,'' which means that the college will accept her and offer her some aid, but not enough to meet the family's full need.

It sounds like your daughter has already applied, and you are just waiting for the decisions now. Be optimistic! If she has applied to a range of colleges, and presented herself well, there should hopefully be some good news coming your way. I know it's a nerve-wracking time for everyone.

When the financial aid letters arrive, or if you are looking to find more colleges for your daughter to apply to, feel free to contact me. I do admissions and financial aid consulting, and would be happy to help you make sense of the offers. Colleges are ''strategic'' in how they structure their aid awards, making themselves look more generous than they really are, and masking the real cost of attendance. I can help you understand what you'll actually be paying at each school and avoid surprise costs down the road. I can also help you negotiate a better financial aid package if the school your daughter wants to attend is not offering enough aid.

College Admissions Advisor

Harvard is a ''need blind'' college. They admit who they like and then try to put together enough financial aid which might be grants, work study or loans. My child went to Harvard last year as CAL offered him $12,000 and Harvard offered $45,000. If you earn under $80,000 or so a year and your child is accepted, tuition is free. Really, even as California residents, CAL would have cost about the same as Harvard, in the $60-65 K range. They also expected my child to contribute about $2500 to his own expenses from his summer job.