One part of the admissions process that confuses many students and their families is dealing with financial aid.

Some students are concerned that their application will be penalized if it appears that they are seeking financial aid. If this is a worry, they should review whether their target schools practice need blind admissions in one form or another. 

Some schools practice need blind admissions, which means that the school's admissions office and the financial aid office do not share information. Even if information regarding your family’s finances can be gleaned from your application, such information is not considered when your application is under review.

Not many schools, however, have a truly need blind admissions policy. It takes a lot of money to perform the second part of the need-blind requirement: should they accept you, they’re guaranteeing that they’ll pull together a financial aid package that will allow you to attend their school. 

Some schools are need sensitive. Only their borderline applicants — those off the waiting list, or who appear to be less competitive within the applicant pool, are considered in light of their financial resources.

(Editor's Note: Hamilton College  in upstate New York is not need sensitive, the college has been need blind since 2010, according to a school spokesperson. This article originally and incorrectly stated that the school was need sensitive.)

Other schools practice need blind admissions, but cannot guarantee they’ll meet  100% of a student’s financial needs. A recent report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, found that 93% of public institutions and 81% of private institutions claim “they are entirely need-blind.” When asked if this meant that they’d meet the full financial needs of those admitted, their numbers dropped to 32% of public, and 18% of private schools.

Confused? Join the club; that’s the natural state when attempting to decrypt the machinations of the world of financial aid and admissions. Such schools as Tufts have attempted to become need-blind over the last years, but haven’t successfully raised the funds required to become a full practitioner.

If you elect to apply for financial aid, the first step is to submit a FAFSA form to the admissions offices of your schools (which you should do as early in January, if possible). If you are applying to a private school, you will need to also submit a CSS Profile form, which is found at the College Board site. Once received, the admissions office will calculate your EFC (effective family contribution), and then determine your aid package. There are three types of aid available: grants (the more of these you get the better, as you don’t have to pay them back), loans (the less of these, the better), and work study (payment for working part time on campus).

Should you gain acceptance to a school, but the school cannot pull together a financial package that addresses 100% of your financial needs, then you’ve been gapped. You’ll have to address the difference between your needs and the offered financial package by acquiring more loans (not necessarily an easy or pleasant task in these financially challenging times), negotiating with the admissions office for a better financial aid package, or selecting a different school.

The key to gaining an upper hand on the financial aid process is to make sure you select schools that are a good fit. If, in your application, it is apparent to the admissions office you are special (e.g. strong academics or talent), they’ll find the resources no matter how difficult the economic times might be.

Ralph Becker, founder of Ivy College Prep, LLC, a resident of Long Beach, has been counseling students for the last eight years. A former Yale Alumni interviewer, he holds a certificate in college counseling from UCLA Extension, and has published SAT* Vocab 800 Books A, B, C, & D.

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