Do I Dare File For Financial Aid?

A couple of days ago I asked my blog visitors to submit questions that I could direct to college admission officers at the annual conference of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling.
Now I want to start sharing answers. The admission experts whom I talked to today came from such disparate schools as Colgate University, Carroll College, Chapman University, Whittier College and California Institute of Technology.
So let’s plunge in with the first question from Paula:
If a student does not apply for financial aid, is he/she more or less likely to get a merit scholarship?
Actually, I already knew the answer to this one. If you need financial aid, you should always apply for assistance. For the vast majority of students, their need for aid should not impact their ability to get into a school or receive financial assistance. Financial aid, by the way, can include merit aid (free money) and loans.
The students who need to be worried about applying for financial aid are those who are academically near the bottom of the applicant pool. That’s because many private schools – and this is really a private college issue – are need aware or need sensitive. When using this approach, a school will accept most of its freshmen class without any regard to their financial need – or whether they even applied for financial aid. With this admission approach, the students who are marginal applicants AND financially needy can be rejected.

Need Aware or Need Sensitive Colleges

At Colgate University, for instance, the admission rep whom I talked to estimated that 90% to 95% of this liberal arts college’s  freshman class is selected without regard to need. By the time that many students have been accepted, the financial aid money has run out.  Consequently, the remainder of the class would be selected among applicants who don’t need financial aid.

Need Blind Schools

Some colleges rely on a need blind admission policy. That means schools will accept students without regard to the applicants’ financial aid. That might sound better, but this approach  can create heartache for plenty of students.
Why? Because some low-income and middle-income students who are accepted will have no ability to pay the cost. This phenomenon is called “gapping,” which means that a student’s financial aid package doesn’t come close to covering the price of the university. There’s a gap –sometimes quite huge — between what a student can afford and what the school is offering. When the gap is large, I’d argue that it would have been better if the college had rejected the student outright.
At Colgate, by the way, students who receive financial aid get 100% of their demonstrated financial need met. Most school can’t be that generous.

Read More

You can learn more about financial aid gapping by reading this post that I wrote earlier this year:

What Should College Admission Officers Know

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller and a workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. Follow her on Twitter.

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    1. Hi Audrey,
      Unfortunately, Drexel appears to be one of those schools that does not make its Common Data Set available publicly. You can typically find a school’s Common Data Set by Googling that term and the name of the school. You can find some of the same stats by looking at a school’s Profile on the College Board website. In this case, when you reach Drexel’s profile you click on its Cost & Financial Aid. Drexel is unusual, however, because it won’t reveal its financial aid stats on the College Board! Gosh what are they hiding???
      I did find the stats on Here is the link:
      Drexel, as I’ve written before, has a very poor financial aid policy. I wrote a blog post about this in March. Here is the link:
      Lynn O’Shaughnessy