Do All Admission Reps Know What They’re Talking About?

Is your university need blind?
I once saw a couple of  enthusiastic young admission reps from a pair of Catholic universities back East try to answer that question at a college conference. The reps were specifically asked whether their schools might reject some applicants if they required a lot of financial assistance.
Both admission reps vigorously assured the counselor who asked the question that their institutions would never do such a thing. Both of them bragged that their universities were “need blind” for admission decisions. In other words, they never, ever took financial need into consideration during the admission selection process.

When Colleges Get Stingy

Of course that sounds good, but what is far more relevant is what these — or any other schools — do when accepted students need financial aid. At most institutions, many students who require aid experience a higher-ed phenomenon called “gapping.” That’s when the university produces a financial aid package that doesn’t include enough money to cover the student’s demonstrated need.
Sometimes the financial aid gap can be quite large. A $40,000 school, for example, might give a student a financial aid package that includes a $10,000 grant with the rest in loans. In a case like this, the gap is so large it’s scary.
When asked about gapping at their universities, the reps were vague. They didn’t seem familiar with their institutions’ financial aid practices. They did mention that they could be advocates for students who really wanted to attend, but needed more money.

Young College Admission Officers

I think this Q&A exchange illustrates what I consider to be a troubling problem. A lot of admission reps, particularly the young staffers of which there are many in this field, have little to no knowledge of the tough decisions that are being made back at their mother ships by the head honchos in the admission and financial aid offices, who must make tough decisions with finite resources and competing institutional goals.

What Do Admission Officers Know?

At college fairs, these young staffers encourage teenagers by handing out shiny marketing material and telling these kids that the schools gives out lots of money. But try having a candid conversation with one of them about a specific child’s chances for meaningful financial aid. Often they will suggest not worrying about the money at this point in the process.
Earlier in the day, I had asked one of the admission rep presenters what percentage of financial aid need that her university typically met. It’s easy enough to find out on the College Board or the school’s Common Data Set. I asked it simply to find out if she knew. And she didn’t. What she did tell me was the range of merit scholarships the school awards. But that isn’t what I asked and that isn’t particularly helpful when you are a 18-year-old kid or a parent and wondering how much college will cost.


I think schools should bring young admission officers into the loop so they can be more realistic with potential students and their parents. I believe, however, that universities benefit from having their enthusiastic young cheerleaders remain fairly clueless.
What do you think?

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  1. All to often I’ve run across admissions representatives who are unable to answer basic financial aid questions. However I think it’s important to remember that the “job” of these reps is to market their school to prospective students. The college is the product; the student (and his parents) is the buyer. It is vitally important to do our homework and not take the rep’s word for it that the financial aspect will all work itself out. I’ve seen many a disappointed student and outraged parent when things don’t go the way the admissions rep assured them it would.

    1. Admissions representatives are not legally allowed to speak about financial aid to a prospective student. They are only able to speak in generals about how to apply for grants and loans through federal financial aid programs, such as the FAFSA. Each individual students financial award is based on so many different factors, that only a professional financial advisor can discuss these options with the student or their parent. The rep is merely there to help the student decide whether or not they would be a good fit for the university, and the scholarships that are provided from the school. Their title says it all, “representative,” which means they are there to represent their university’s curriculum and educational platform. At college fairs you are typically speaking to student representatives, or admissions volunteers. They are not qualified to answer detailed questions, because they don’t have the answers. Admissions reps are licensed and trained by their accrediting body, and can lose their licenses by crossing lines outside of their knowledge base. Yes, you should do your homework to compare which school is best for you. Do not fall in love with a school just because your admissions rep tells you what you want to hear. Do not reject a school because you felt uncomfortable with your admissions representative. You are not buying a person, you are investing in an education and your future in that career path. If one single person can affect you that greatly in your pursuit to higher education, then perhaps you shouldn’t be making any decisions to go to college right now. If you are basing your decision on how much funding you are getting, or think that your admissions representative should know more about the funding you may receive…you do not have the right motivation for attending college in the first place. If you respect higher education, believe it’s important to earn a degree, and actually care about the field of study…you will be willing to invest in yourself. If not, you shouldn’t blame other people for your uncertainty. It’s called, accountability…research…and self discovery.

  2. I agree… we were talking to a college rep from a private Lutheran College from another state and the rep couldn’t answer a lot of questions so, I finally asked where he was from. He was a local that was a pastor at the local Lutheran Church.

    1. Hi Tina,
      Thanks for sharing your experience with the college rep at a Lutheran school. Reps really need to be brought into the loop, but I wonder if they ever will.
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  3. Lynn,
    I just met someone who was an admissions/alumni rep from a university in in the Northeast, and when I asked her questions her answer was “Gee, I don’t know. I do not do much for admissions. I just show up with my brochures a few times a year.” Now mind you I was not asking particularly difficult questions just some basic stuff that a high schooler would wonder about such as what type of athletics, how many majors are offered, etc.
    Pretty much makes me wary of having my clients spend their valuable time at college fairs!

    1. Thanks for your comment Carita. A lot of the people who man booths at college fairs are alumni, who don’t particularly know a whole lot.
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy