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Colleges and Financial Aid

Parents and students need to understand the terms “Meets Full Need,” “Need Blind for Admissions,” and “Merit Aid.” These are not always as straightforward as they may appear!

A college that “meets full need” means that all of the students it accepts will receive enough aid to attend – according to the college. Parents may disagree with what the college believes the family can afford. Students may find that a college will more readily admit someone who will not drain their financial aid budget, as opposed to taking an applicant who will require substantial aid to attend.

A college that claims to be “need blind for admissions” may not disclose to the admissions officer whether or not a given applicant is applying for aid. This sounds fair. But remember that admissions officers have a lot of other data -- from zip code to activities to sports to parents’ occupations -- to guess whether a student is from a privileged background. And of course “need blind” often doesn’t apply for international applicants or those taken from the wait list.

Finally, “merit aid” often doesn’t have anything to do with an applicant’s objective “deserts” at all. Colleges use “merit aid” to entice applicants they want on their campus. Maybe wealthy parents just need a little off the top to feel more appreciated. Maybe adding a “merit” package to a need-based one can make the college affordable for an applicant. Maybe students with stellar scores will only attend if they don’t have to pay out of pocket. You can see how “merit aid” can be very flexible!

Of course, with “test optional” policies in place for a second year at most colleges, the idea of “merit” has been expanded to include those who might not submit test scores. Make no mistake, though: Colleges will still “pay” more for applicants who can offer higher SATs or ACTs. They will continue to post the 25th-75th percentile ranges of test scores for their entering classes. If you have high test scores, you will be more valuable to colleges – and therefore more likely to be tempted with merit aid.

Every family should learn the ins and outs of need and merit in admissions. If you need help preparing a college list that your family can afford, contact me at 847-660-8625.


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