Now that you’re familiar with the words and phrases commonly used in financial aid (assuming you've read Episode One of this series), let’s talk about how different institutions operate. Below, I’ve outlined the four most common scenarios regarding:
1.) How financial aid is considered (or not) in the admissions process.
2.) How financial aid is awarded to the students who are admitted.
Again, I am not a financial aid officer and I only work for one institution. There may be variations I’m not accounting for. But, as a rule, most colleges and universities will fit into one of these four categories.
Need Blind and Meets Full Need: All admitted students will receive a financial aid package that makes attendance affordable and financial need will not be a factor in admissions decisions. Only a handful (less than a dozen, I believe, and all of which are highly selective) universities are need blind and meet need.
Need Aware/Sensitive and Meets Full Need: All admitted students will receive a financial aid package that makes attendance affordable, but some otherwise qualified students may be denied if the institution cannot afford to offer the aid they need. This is the scenario at Tufts and many of our peer institutions.
Need Blind and Does Not Meet Full Need: Financial need will not be a factor in admissions decisions, but admitted students may not be awarded a financial aid package that makes attendance affordable.
Need Aware/Need Sensitive and Does Not Meet Full Need: Financial need may be a factor in admissions decisions, and admitted students may not be awarded a financial aid package that makes attendance affordable.
I encourage you to ask the schools you’re considering which system they operate under, and pay particular attention to whether or not they meet need. I am asked that question WAY less often than I hear “Are you need aware?” Asking about need sensitivity matters, too (and is a good reminder to complete your financial aid paperwork if the answer is yes: a need sensitive school may not take you if your paperwork is incomplete and they can’t tell whether sending a letter of admission would cost the institution $5,000 or $50,000). But finding out if a school “meets need” is critical if aid is a significant factor for you and your family. Even if they are need aware, I would argue the bigger concern should be whether the financial aid package will be enough if you DO get in. If a school doesn’t meet need, don’t write it off yet, but be very pointed about learning about merit aid or other resources, and whether or not they can close the gap.
Are you feeling empowered with all this new information? I hope so. Stay tuned later in the fall for the last blog in this series: Action Items.
Image used under creative commons license from flickr user Tony & Wayne. Original can be found here.