The Financial Aid Gap

by Vielka

I think one of the most disappointing things to discover is when the financial aid award does not meet the estimated family contribution (EFC). There are a number of reasons for the gap and the primary one is that universities are basically broke and only a few of them run on endowments. Some schools have endowments that are so large, they are running on the interest on these endowments. And those same schools are typically really competitive, meaning they have big names. This means that when someone is getting ready to write a big check, they write it to these schools. So some of these schools don’t even run on the interest on their endowments; rather they use the money they are getting from donors and actually come out ahead by not even spending the interest.

What does that mean for you? Here are a few ways to mind the gap:

1) Attempt to gain admissions to as selective a school as possible. Most likely these are the schools with the large endowments. I often times talk to students who don’t want to take Calculus or AP classes, but these are the very classes that make a student competitive for the selective schools. Passing AP exams also helps with the cost issue in another way: it can reduce the number of courses one is required to take in college. So think about the AP course and AP exam as two different ways to get some real cash for college.

2) Really assess financial fit when you are creating your college list. The colleges that we suggest to clients are VHC-approved, meaning they meet a majority of financial need and at least 70% of students graduate in six years. You would be surprised at how few schools those are and only about a dozen public universities in the country meet those criteria (and only two public universities meet 100% of financial need). This is the reason one should divide their list into Reach, Sure Bet, and Safety schools. If you are mixing and matching correctly, the Reach schools will be those that are the most selective, with the large endowments, the Sure Bets are not as selective and may have large endowments, while the Safety schools are even less selective and do not have as much of an endowment. By targeting the Reach schools, a student would theoretically exceed the academic requirements for the Safety schools and likely meet their standard for merit aid. If other parts of the strategy work well, then you have applied to a list of schools that will meet your financial needs for different reasons. I encounter many students that want to only apply to Ivy League schools and then toss in UC Berkeley for good measure. Unless you are exceedingly exceptional and/or have a good amount of cash, that is terrible strategy. We provide free consultations. Contact us for more information.

3) Apply for private scholarships. Regardless of who you are, you will likely need to meet some financial need and as I’ve said, even if you have the money, spending it on undergraduate school isn’t the best use of it. Keep in mind that EFC is an amount that you may be able to divide across a number of months, but more likely than not, you will have to pay a chunk of it at the start of each term. So in order to meet your EFC and any other gap, get the money from private scholarships. Also, you can start applying for scholarships as early as you like. Many scholarships are open to all high school students, meaning you can apply for them and if you receive the funding, the foundation will put it away until you are enrolled in a college. This is also a great way to tofu up your high school resume. We send out a general list of scholarships every two weeks, and a weekly, more detailed list only for clients. Sign up here if you would like to receive the general scholarship list.

4) You may have to borrow some. Yes, “loan” is a four-letter word and you certainly don’t want to saddle your student with a ton of debt to start their adult life but learning how to borrow money is a life skill that you should take the opportunity college provides to learn. The general rule is that you don’t want to borrow more for your education than your first year’s salary. With that, most gaps are less scary.

5) Don’t forget work study. Work study is basically a loan that the university receives from the federal government that you pay back during the year by working on-campus. My work study jobs always tended to be related to racism: I was an assistant to grad students in the Psychology Department. They were trying to find a new measurement of racism; this meant that I had to do some fine acting and some less interesting data entry. My teammate paid her entire NYU tuition with work study. It meant going to school part-time but still, she did it.

There are a number of intricacies that are specific to international students. For the most part, very few schools offer full funding to international students in a need-blind application, and those are very selective schools. For the schools that are not need-blind in international admissions, you have to be pretty stellar to be admitted with a full-funding package. Contact us to do a consultation for international students.

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