When Applying to College, Will Your Financial Needs Matter?

March 10, 2010 07:03 AM
by Sarah Amandolare
More colleges are adopting need-blind admissions policies, but many still take financial needs into consideration, emphasizing the importance of a streamlined financial aid process.

Hamilton Makes Promising Adjustment for Students in Need

This week, Hamilton College, a liberal arts institution occupying 1,300 acres in upstate New York, announced its adoption of a need-blind admission policy for all applicants except international and transfer students. The policy takes effect immediately, and is part of Hamilton’s new Strategic Plan to continue drawing a population of “racially, socioeconomically and geographically diverse” students, according to a news release on Hamilton’s Web site.

Hamilton’s previous policy forced the college to cut certain qualified applicants “based on their financial circumstances,” replacing them with “others who were not seeking aid,” according to Jacques Steinberg for The New York Times. Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Monica Inzer said that in 2009, three percent of admissions decisions were changed due to financial need; in 2008, seven percent of those decisions were revised, Steinberg reported.

Six trustees will cover “the additional expense” of Hamilton’s need-blind policy, and the college plans to launch “a capital campaign to raise $40 million as a permanent endowment for need-blind admissions,” Steinberg writes.

Several other schools, including Ivy League colleges, have already adopted a need-blind admissions policy, according to Steinberg. Vassar College did so in 2007, following a decade-long period in which “[d]emands on financial aid resources unexpectedly surged,” forcing the school to take financial need into account during the admissions process.

Background: Need-blind admissions and Hamilton’s decision

According to Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed, colleges typically “offer generous financial aid packages to some students,” but stop short of guaranteeing admission to “anyone who is academically qualified.” Hamilton’s decision to go need-blind is “notable” because, although “it is wealthier than most private colleges,” it doesn’t have the “multi-billion-dollar endowment” of the majority of institutions that have adopted the policy.

Furthermore, Hamilton’s “shift comes at a time when many private colleges are putting more money into merit aid – which is not awarded based on financial need,” and many others are withdrawing aid because of the economy.

Jaschik reports that Hamilton’s president, Joan Hinde Stewart, and Inzer are both “the first generations in their families to go to college,” and both are passionate about making the school accessible to a broad spectrum of students. Hamilton has even devoted a section of its Web site to students who are “First in the Family” to attend college.

Related Topic: Choosing a college and applying for financial aid

In January, President Obama discussed the federal budget, including a proposition that would “make it easier for college graduates to pay off their student loans,” reported NPR’s Scott Horsley. Under the plan, loan “payments would be capped at 10 percent of a graduate’s discretionary income and any remaining debt would be forgiven after 20 years or just 10 if a graduate goes into public service.”

The White House has also addressed the overly complicated process of applying for financial aid. In April 2009, Vice President Biden discussed the Middle Class Task Force Report on college affordability, which states, “the fact that well over one million students who could qualify for aid went without it during the 2003-2004 school year is one indication that the application process is too complicated.” Plans to simplify the FAFSA were in the pipeline; “simplification makes good policy sense,” the report read.

In February, columnist Pat Restaino reported, “the entire FAFSA application process has been streamlined and simplified.” He offers five tips to ease the FAFSA process even more, and gives advice for parents on how to get “an early estimate of their eligibility for federal student aid.”

When it comes to choosing the right school, factors such as size, campus environment, strongest departments and extracurricular options can be whittled down with some help from the Web.

This Financial Aid Web guide links to financial aid resources and cost calculators, provides information on college scholarships and grants, and discusses student loan resources.

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