When admission reps don’t know what they are talking about


How much do college admission reps know about financial aid?

Many of them know next to nothing.

I was reminded of this reality this week when I was attending the annual conference of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling in Costa Mesa, CA. This is a group that represents colleges, as well as high school counselors and independent college consultants.

During a financial aid session, a speaker, who is currently a high school counselor, joked about the financial aid training that she received before she started her job as a university admission rep.

When she began her university job, the speaker recalled that she was instructed to tell parents and students to complete the FAFSA to qualify for aid and if families had any other aid 2469517534_6dfca15755_oquestions to direct them to the financial aid office.  Other reps chuckled in recognition when she was sharing her story.

I have written about this shocking lack of knowledge in a previous post that I wrote after attending another conference. Here it is:

Do All Admission Reps Know What They’re Talking About

About a year ago, a respected financial aid/admission director at an elite institution told me that my suspicion about admission reps was true. Unless someone is a high-level administrator in an admission office, it’s unlikely that he or she understands how aid is dispensed at their institution.

Why Keep Admission Reps in the Dark?

Why would private and state colleges and universities keep their reps in the dark? If you are as cynical as I am about the higher-ed world operates perhaps you know the answer.

If reps are in the dark, admission reps are free to act as cheerleaders when meeting parents and students. At college fairs and other settings with families, they can brag about the merit scholarships that schools offer and how plentiful they are. At the same time, they aren’t saddled with the knowledge that their schools are probably gapping.

When gapping occurs, a school accepts a student, but the financial assistance can be so inadequate that the applicant will usually attend a different school.

In some cases, the gap between what a family can afford and what the school offers can be tens of thousands of dollars. Often the students in this category are middle- and low-income students who are in the bottom half academically of the accepted students.

Ask an important questions about a school’s financial aid policy, such as what percentage of need a school typically meets and what percentage of students get their full need met, and you might get no response.

A Case of Disinformation

A consequence of this lack of knowledge is that it creates a lot of disinformation. The same session provided an excellent example of what I’m talking about.

During her presentation, the former admission rep showed a Power Point slide of merit scholarships offered by a private college in New York. She mentioned that this is a school that offers plenty of scholarship opportunities for students.

I felt my head was going to explode as I was listening to the counselor talk about the school’s generosity.

When I looked up the school’s financial aid stats on the College Board and COLLEGEdata, I discovered that the college is not generous to students who have financial need. The school only meets a stingy 65% of need and that includes loans.  Just as troubling is that for all students, the school only meets 41% of financial need. In other words, after freshmen year, the awards drop precipitously.

If the speaker knew how to evaluate school’s financially by checking figures online, she wouldn’t be bragging about this institution’s generosity.

Bottom Line:

You must do your own research on schools. You can’t depend on admission reps to tell you the whole story.

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  1. I couldn’t agree more. Admission reps often list off a bunch of financial aid statistics about the college that are either misleading or simply not true. If I had to do it all over again, I would seek an admission rep that could help me not only plan for financial aid but also help me understand more about the loans themselves such as typical duration, fixed vs. variable interest rates, and how to calculate estimated monthly repayments.

  2. I found it interesting that the director of admission also can carry the title of the director of financial aid. I had always thought of them as two different jobs!

    1. Yes Julie, they can have the same title. I doubt, however, that this is common.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

  3. Hi Lynn,

    I read this and thought about the sales presentation versus the process of buying a new car.

    When I buy a car I read road tests and drive the two or three models that interest me the most. Then I only need to go to two Web sites, one to get the invoice price of the car (what the dealer pays plus any incentives) as well as estimates of my monthly payment, the other to get the wholesale price of my car (what the dealer is most likely to pay for my old car).

    When I walk into a dealership with this information I never get an argument. I close the deal in 15 minutes. The business manager never denies the numbers because s/he knows them, too.

    In the college search, however, there is no single site that will answer the four most important questions I’m likely to have as a parent, if money is the issue:

    + Is the school likely/unlikely to help me financially?
    + How does the school help my student decide on a major, possible careers?
    + How does the school help my student test those interests (internship, experiential learning in classes, writing a thesis, among other options)
    + Does the school have a network of alumni, faculty and staff who will be supportive of me while my student is in school–and after s/he leaves?

    The answer to the first question is personal; it depends on your family’s financial situation, their EFC, the school’s financial situation, and how badly they want the student. You provide tremendous help in getting families to that answer before they talk to an admission officer, as do other sites and services. The problem is that the reliable information is so scattered about. It’s not like my car-buying example where I know that there are two “best” sources.

    Admissions officers are more likely to respect the student and family who have done this homework; they’ve walked in with some conception of whether they could afford the school.

    The admissions officer who cannot answer the other three questions should look for another line of work. Maybe the school should consider its mission as well.

    1. Personally, I wouldn’t rely on an admissions rep for answers to ANY of the questions you’ve listed. I think the car-buying analogy is a good one, but I take it even further than you do. I wouldn’t rely on a car sales rep for reliable information about the car’s gas mileage, reliability, or likely future trade-in value. Likewise, I wouldn’t give much (any) credence to what an admissions rep had to say about the school’s pedagogical practices, how and when students choose majors, degree requirements, internships, or the effectiveness of alumni networks. If the question isn’t directly related to the admissions process, I would consider it beyond the purview of the admissions rep. But I will cheerfully admit to being a cynic.

      1. I would agree, except that admissions practices are not the same from school to school. The rep from the U.S Military Academy, for instance, or a private work college where students pay no tuition has a different job than the rep from Marist. The Marist example here is especially serious because the school attracts applications from a wide cross section of students. Some want a private liberal arts college, others are looking at a SUNY school or another state college like Ramapo. That rep needs not only to be more transparent with information; s/he also needs to concede that another school might be a better deal for some applicants. Or the rep needs to discuss the answers to my three last three questions so that I can make a better decision.

  4. Parents need to keep in mind that the admission rep is there to “sell” their college to the applicant/potential applicant. Reps are going to tell parents what they want to hear. I love the bottom line that “you must do your own research.” Couldn’t agree with that more.