Sometimes money can buy happiness. Or at least a spot in a freshman class.
Today, more so than in the past, parents worry about whether ‘ability to pay’ will influence their child’s prospects at a particular college. While I would like to reassure everyone that with respect to schools, need-blind especially, a family’s financial need will not be a factor in admissions, my gut (and the results of a new Harvard survey) tell me that it might be… at least a little. This is not to suggest that money is the main driver in the admissions process – far from it at most of the more selective schools in the country. But in these economic conditions, I cannot wholly deny that ‘ability to pay’ is not a factor influencing some admissions decisions at some colleges. Will a public university facing a funding shortfall look to less qualified, out-of-state, full-freight paying students? Perhaps. Will a private university that has already offered a $33,000.00 discount counsel a student who wants more to go elsewhere? Sometimes.
If you have ever heard me speak at one of my workshops, you might recall that I frequently emphasize that even ‘nonprofit’ colleges act a lot like ‘for profit’ companies in that they have business offices that must meet certain net revenue targets (aggregate and per student). Now the results from a recent Harvard survey of 75 of the most competitive colleges seem to support my claim.
But visit any college fair and the admissions officers at the more competitive colleges (including and especially those surveyed) will be quick to discuss their “holistic” and financially need-blind approach to admissions. That is to say that these schools claim to consider the entire background of the candidate, not just grades, test scores and ability to pay full freight. In my experience, this is mostly true of most colleges… most of the time. The first ‘sort’ is about the quality of the applicant’s highschool, grades and scores — and then they consider ‘softer’ criteria such as “fit” between the applicant and the institution, class needs, recommendations, essay, specific talent, ethnic background, and yes, even the ability to pay the bill.
And therein lies the conflict between the admissions office, driven by the institutional values of applicant qualifications, and the business office, driven by greenbacks.
So what is a normal, middle class family to do?
One of the most important things you can do is to make sure your student’s focus remains on excelling in high school and preparing as best they can for SAT/ACT testing, while seeking schools that are the right academic and social fit based on their intellectual pursuits and avocational, or extra-curricular, interests. I have hard evidence that if a school wants your child badly enough based on those factors, they’ll make you a financial offer that you can accept.
You should be working on an integrated admissions strategy with your child, and help build a college list that targets a number of schools where your child is not only very likely to be admitted and be happy, but is also more likely to meet your financial needs (in a variety of ways). In doing so, you significantly stack the odds (on admissions and affordability) in your family’s favor. How much so?
Well, we’re just wrapping up an admissions season that pundits are predicting will have the lowest admit rates in history. And yet it looks as though my 12th graders are on target to have the best financial award year we’ve ever had with the average financial offer coming in at just shy of $30,000 per student (so far) from great colleges… including all of the FL schools, as well as Brown, Harvard, Duke, Cornell, BC, Emory, RPI, USC, Brandeis, Ithaca, Northwestern and many others. Of course, that’s not to say that there weren’t some head-scratching surprises and one or two disappointments, but all of our students got into and received financial offers from one of their choices. I’ll be publishing our results, anonymously of course — including the annual school disslist of colleges that we feel are not living up to their marketing — as soon as the process is finished (deposits are due on May 1).
If it seems that what has always been a complex and competitive selection process has gotten even more so, you’d be right. And I expect this trend to continue. The best way to ensure your child’s success is to arm your family with the right tools for today’s college process. If you have a current 11th grader, schools will begin accepting applications for the upcoming admissions year on August 1st, which is why I’m offering my 5th annual College Pete’s Thick Envelope Admissions and Application Bootcamp earlier than ever. If your child is a current junior in high school and you’d like them to get a head start on the college application process, I highly recommend this half-day intensive class. I hope to see them there.
P.S. If you’re wondering how these families are receiving five-figure tuition discounts or how you’re going to pay for college with list prices approaching $60,000 at private schools, then you should register for one of my upcoming workshops. It’s free to attend, but missing out on this info could cost you a fortune.