Getting the Best Financial Aid Package


More colleges and universities than ever are handing out merit aid to students.


I blogged about this phenomenon right before Thanksgiving. It was one of the conclusions of a new report that was released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling that explored financial aid policies of the nation’s colleges and universities.


What I wanted to mention today was another finding that parents will find illuminating. Very few schools are handing out big enough financial aid packages to their students.


In the survey, only 32% of public institutions and 18% of private schools said they meet the full financial need of accepted students.


What that means is that most students are “gapped.” Here’s an example:


Let’s say a students gets accepted into a private school costing $45,000 and the aid formula concludes that she can only afford to pay $10,000 for the year. In the ideal world, she would receive $35,000 in federal, state and institutional assistance. But maybe all she gets is $20,000. If that happens she has been gapped. 


How do you avoid being gapped? You want to apply to schools that would love to have you. In the survey, 63% of private schools acknowledged that they gave better packages to kids they really wanted. Only 15% of public schools say they do this. 


If you want to cut the cost of college it’s important to find schools that are a good academic match. If your child gets into a reach school — that is they are at the bottom of the incoming freshmen class — they almost surely will be gapped at the vast majority of private schools. 


Here are the criteria that private schools in the survey used when deciding who would receive merit money awards. I start with the most important factors first:


High school grades 75.8%

SAT/ACT 73.8%

Talent (music, artistic etc) 44.4%

Class rank 39.9%

Athletic ability 19.4%

Legacy status 11.7%


Here are the criteria that public schools used in awarding merit money:


SAT scores 83%

High School grades 79%

Class rank 47%

Talent 30%

Athletic ability 29%

Legacy status  11%



Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution.


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