Does Applying for Financial Aid Effect Admission Outcomes?

Written by Nell McCormack Abom, Host Smart Talk TV | Dec 8, 2009 11:22 PM

As institutions seek to burnish their reputations by increasing their selectivity and enrolling high profile students, the role of financial aid has shifted from that of “enabling” students who need assistance to “leveraging” the enrollments of those who possess talents/interests that are valued most highly by the institution.

A student’s ability to be self-supporting financially, then, has become an important credential in the eyes of many admission officers. And, yes, the fact that a student can indicate that s/he is not applying for financial aid can only help.

On the other hand, checking “yes” to this question on the application for admission should not hurt. Why?  While colleges may, in fact, discriminate based on financial status, they are foolish to do so at the front end of the process before they have seen any real data that demonstrates a student’s need. It is often the case that up to one-third of the students who check “yes” (that they will be applying for financial aid) either never apply for aid or they do apply and demonstrate that they don’t need it.

As a result, admission officers are likely to wait (usually until early March of the admission process) so they can see all of the financial aid data for all of the students whom they might admit before deciding, albeit discretely, who will get what.

This brings us back to the question, “How do we check the financial aid box on the admission application?” The answer: respond honestly. This particular question is being asked in reference to “need-based” assistance that is administered by the school from its own coffers. It does not pertain to your interest in securing Guaranteed Student Loans or establishing eligibility for campus work-study opportunities, both of which are funded by the federal government. Nor does it pertain to the student’s consideration for merit-based awards.

If you are seeking need-based assistance from the school, say so. At this point, it costs nothing to express an interest. Besides, the simple fact of the checkmark in the “yes” box doesn’t provide sufficient information for an admission committee to discriminate one way or the other.

If you know you don’t need assistance, say “no.” Answering with a checkmark in the “no” box doesn’t eliminate a student from merit scholarship consideration nor does it preclude him/her from receiving assistance from government sources. In fact, there is nothing binding at all about the checkmark. In my experience, checking “yes” serves of little value to admission officers except to alert them that you might be submitting a financial aid application in which case they can help to make sure it is complete.

Peter Van Buskirk is an author, consultant, speaker and creator of the Best College Fit™ Resources. Visit to learn more about Peter and his student-centered approach to college planning.

Published in Life After 12th Grade

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