With the insanity surrounding the recent college admissions scandal, it it both a thrill and a relief that March Madness can provide a bit of a reprieve.

This is undoubtedly my favorite time of the year on the sports calendar, and it happens to coincide with admissions decisions from many colleges which makes the days of March and early April doubly exciting. For the next three weeks, my two favorite passions – higher education and basketball – converge to bring excitement, hope, heartbreak and awe with 67 games in total, culminating in the National Championship on April 8. The wildly unpredictable nature of the games creates mass excitement – while picking teams in the bracket has become a national pastime.

For the 12th year in a row, we’ve been committed to #UniversityGenerosityBracketology – a zany, crazy and bizarre way to choose schools in your company’s (or family’s or friend’s) bracket. If you’re at a loss on whom to select in that “could-go-either-way” 8-9 seed game between VCU and UCF, I allow you to steal my pick (see below). My advice just might take you to the top of your company pool, where you can earn important status at top prognosticator among your co-workers and friends…and earn a few extra bucks as well.

Choosing winners in March Madness is never easy – that’s why Warren Buffett is again offering $1 million a year for life to anyone who can complete a perfect bracket. It’s virtually impossible, or one in 9 quintillion (is that even a number?).  I think Mr. Buffett will be keeping his money again.

Our ‘Top Secret’ Method for Turning March Madness into May $cholarships!

We take a look at the financial aid generosity levels of every school in the tournament, and we combine that with the 4-year graduation rate and a proprietary bit of pixie dust to create a generosity and efficiency rating. The school with the higher rating advances! Both the NSA and Russian hackers have tried to crack our code, to no avail.

I realize that my approach may be scoffed at by the basketball purists among our readership. But I ask you to reflect on your own performance in selecting games in years past, and if I were a betting man (OK admittedly, in March I am a betting man!) I would wager that your bracket is likely busted come Sunday. So don’t retort with your so-called knowledge of the game to convince me that Northeastern has no shot against Kansas (see below)! Remember last year, when top-seeded UVA lost to 16th seed UMBC? The purists never saw that one coming. We can no longer say that a #1 has never lost to a #16, giving hope to the likes of Gardner-Webb and Iona. But I like both Virginia and UNC, for reasons I will explain below.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some key matchups:

(3) LSU vs. (14) Yale: I’ve been following this tournament since I was about 10 years old, and for fun I usually take the Ivy League Champion in the first round. When it comes to #UniversityGenerosityBracketology, my gut follows my formula. LSU is clearly the better basketball team, having won the SEC regular season, but Yale’s numbers for graduation rate (86%) and financial need met (100%) are among the best in the bracket. Besides, I’m more of a dog person than a cat person, so I’m taking the Bulldogs over the Tigers.

(1) Virginia vs. (16) Gardner-Webb: Last year top-seeded UVA lost to 16th seed UMBC – a game the basketball purists never saw coming and marking the first time a #1 lost to a #16. But Virginia’s numbers (100% need met, 88% grad rate) resemble an Ivy League school (er, then again so does losing in the first round!), and consequently they are a perennial favorite with #UniversityGenerosityBracketology. I’m going with Virginia.

(8) VCU vs. (9) UCF: This may be an exciting basketball game, but from my geeky statistical standpoint this game is a dog. Both schools meet only 55% of demonstrated need, with UCF barely edging out VCU with a 4-year grad rate of 39.9% vs. 35.6%. We like to joke that UCF stands for “U Can’t Finish”. In this case, the Knights should finish off VCU.

(6) Villanova vs. (11) St. Mary’s: Villanova has won 2 of the last 3 national championships. From a financial aid statistical standpoint, they meet 81% of demonstrated need (St. Mary’s doesn’t report), but they also offer a good handful of merit awards which makes this high-priced college more affordable for the competitive candidate. Still, if Villanova wants to be considered an elite college they should do a better job of meeting demonstrated need. In this matchup of Catholic universities, I’m sticking with Villanova which has the edge on 4-year grad rate (86% to 60%).

(2) Tennessee vs. (15) Colgate: Upset alert! Matchups like this are the reason I do #UniversityGenerosityBracketology each year. Colgate, the Patriot League champion, boasts Ivy-like numbers by meeting 100% demonstrated need and graduating 85% of its students in 4-years. Tennessee’s numbers are an unimpressive 64% need met and 43% grad rate. While the State of Tennessee General Assembly has passed trend-setting legislation to provide free tuition to residents at community colleges, this doesn’t translate to College Pete pixie dust points for the Tennessee Volunteers. I’m going with Colgate.

(4) Kansas vs. (13) Northeastern: Another enticing matchup for #UniversityGenerosityBracketology. Kansas is a mainstay in the tournament, earning 31 trips to the Sweet 16 in its storied history. But Northeastern has made major strides academically in past 20 years, earning a place among the more competitive colleges in the country. This game is a tough call because Northeastern doesn’t report its financial aid numbers, and their grad rate is actually a 5-year rate because of their unique Co-op program, where students actually gain work experience during one year of college. I’ve seen some good merit awards come out of Northeastern in recent years, but like Villanova if they want to be considered among the elite colleges (they have some tough competition in their home city of Boston), they need to do a better job of meeting demonstrated financial need. Still, I’m going with Northeastern in the upset.

Click here to download the complete 2019 #UniversityGenerosityBracketology Tournament Bracket.

The real point in all of this is, when it comes to selecting colleges with your child (for admissions, that is), it’s important to know their financial aid generosity levels and their 4-year graduation rates, among other data. For most colleges these numbers are published and available – it just takes some time to research them. Not all schools meet financial need in the same way, but because of financial aid some of those high-priced, elite private colleges (like Colgate) can be more affordable to middle class families, assuming you can get in through the “front door”.

When it comes to your #MarchMadness bracket, follow my advice at your peril. But when it comes to selecting colleges, be sure to consider these additional data points. And you never know – my bracket advice might help you take a few shekels from your friends in the coming weeks. More likely, it will help you save literally thousands of dollars in additional financial aid.

Enjoy the games this month, and may the best (and most generous) school win!

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