Students from middle-income backgrounds should follow all the steps outlined in the year specific checklists. But before you begin the basic steps set out in the checklists there are a few important points that we would like to emphasize.
For many years college admissions and financial aid professionals have been concerned about the affordability challenges facing middle income families due to ever rising college costs and the resulting strain on school financial aid budgets.
It is widely recognized that the financial aid formulas used by many private colleges to determine eligibility for school awarded need-based discounts (i.e. grants) are particularly tough on middle income families.
Due to the budgetary pressures, many colleges have been forced to reallocate some of their school-awarded discounts from need-based grants to merit based scholarships.
Compounding this problem, most states have reduced taxpayer support for their public colleges and universities and dramatically increased tuition and fees.
So, while sticker prices have been increasing at all colleges, need-based discounts have not kept pace at many schools while merit-based scholarships have been prioritized.
This is a double-edged sword. While it is true that the financial aid formulas tend to be tough on middle income families, it is equally true that many middle-income families incorrectly assume they will not qualify for any financial aid that is based on their financial circumstances.
Run some actual Net Price calculations for possible target schools that award a lot of school-awarded need-based grant. Choose a few from the list of schools that meet full need. You will quickly see if these schools are affordable for your family.
Although school awarded need-based grants have been reduced at many colleges, school-awarded merit based scholarships have been increased. This is good news for many students from middle-income and upper-income backgrounds.
That said, estimating your eligibility for school awarded merit discounts isn’t easy.
Some schools have a clearly defined merit scholarship policy based on clear academic metrics such as GPA and/or standardized test scores. When this is the case, the school Net Price Calculator will ask for academic information in addition to financial information and provide an actual estimate of your merit award.
Unfortunately these schools are the exception rather than the rule.
But, there are resources that will help you identify colleges where you are more likely to qualify for merit aid.
Students and parents who understand this truth stand the best chance of receiving large merit discounts.
Admissions selectivity a result of reputation and marketing. It is not a reliable proxy for the quality of the undergraduate education. There are many excellent colleges that admit a relatively high percentage of their applicants.
Although reputation (i.e brand strength) is not unimportant, it is not as important as the quality of the undergraduate education offered. Perception is NOT more important than reality.
If you check the bio’s of people who have achieved professional success in any field, you will find that most of them did not attend a college that is “highly ranked.” College rankings were designed to sell magazines, not to accurately assess educational quality.
So, when your high school counselor tells you all this – as they usually do – you should believe them! And when they encourage you to consider some colleges that are not highly ranked or some that you may not of even heard of, check them out and see if they offer a lot of merit scholarships.
If you are able to avoid the brand trap when forming your college list, then you will be accepted to more schools. And if you have applied to some schools that are more likely to award merit scholarships to student like you, then you will be in a position to assess the value of each school along with the net price.
What is the value of School A, which has a stronger brand vs. School B with a less prestigious reputation, which offers the same quality education but costs tens of thousands less?