Posts Tagged need-blind admission

“Free” Education- But You’ll have some ‘Splainin’ to do!

khadijah-85Can YOU afford a $200,000 education? You, whose parents are on TANF, who helps your parents by working a full-time job, in addition to school? You should probably go to your state school, it only costs $20,000, 1/10 the price of a fancy-smhancy private school, like Harvard, Williams, Stanford.  Or better yet, community college. What are you thinking applying to that private school?

Except, one thing-  I’m getting a $200,000 education.  For free.

Wait. What? Free? Gratis? My parents have a Trust Fund, that’s probably it.

Actually, nope.

In a remarkable twist of fate, for the first time in my life- being POOR was a good thing. You know why? Some colleges are beginning to recognize that intelligence doesn’t correlate with income and many are putting their money where their mouths are.


But don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. Get ready for weeks of explaining your financial situation to colleges. The FAFSA was created for the traditional college student  – traditional age, two parents and 2.5 kids, no extended family issues, etc. – not exactly room to put extenuating circumstances like ours. And a lot of times, your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) will be higher than your family can actually afford. That’s why you need to get in touch with your financial aid officer early, at whatever schools you are thinking of going to. Tell them your situation. Be COMPLETELY honest. I told them my mom had no income, and they kept asking for tax forms. It was extremely frustrating. They asked for my father’s information, and it took them a while to finally understand that I had NO contact with my father and so I could not provide that information. But keep it up, be persistent with financial aid, and it will pay off, literally!

It is important to understand the difference between price and cost. The price is what colleges charge absent any financial aid – that’s that big number on the website. For most private colleges, that number is daunting. But the other important number is cost – what it will cost you once your financial aid is factored in. Because many schools are heavily endowed, they can make the cost of attending an elite private school less than a less expensive public school. Seriously, (for the juniors and younger out there) apply to the private schools. They can often give better financial packages than your state school. UCLA, for example, is more expensive for me than Harvard! UCLA, keep in mind, costs ~$80,000 while Harvard costs 200,000+. Yet Harvard is cheaper for me because they can afford to give financial aid. Look for the term “need-blind.” That term means they will admit you regardless of your ability to pay. In fact, the admissions office does not consider your need at all in making the admission decision. The other term to look for is “full need.” That means that the school will meet your full financial need – but that’s a bit dicey because your need is determined by a pretty inflexible standard that does not respond well to non-traditional families. And how they meet that need can vary greatly with combinations of grants, loans and work-study. A number of schools state they offer both need-blind admissions and full-need for U.S. students. There is room for some professional judgment and flexibility so be sure to give your financial aid office all the information about you and your family.

Now, because of the economic recession, schools are a bit, shall we say, tighter with their wallets. But don’t lose hope! Schools know the value of highly qualified students from different backgrounds, and the right school for you will provide you with a financial package you and your family will be happy with.

And by the way, all this talk about a free education is a bit misleading. I can tell you that you will pay in blood, sweat and tears for every penny of your education!

College on a Dollar-Menu Budget



My senior chemistry teacher belabored the fact that graduate and medical schools will look at grades in Organic Chemistry to weed out the strong from the weak.  She told us that OrgChem isn’t grotesquely hard, but instead, it highlights your ability (or lack of ability) to memorize and compartmentalize gigantic chunks of information into a comprehensive learning style.

In my mind, Organic Chemistry and graduate school admission is analogous to the FAFSA and undergraduate admission.  Separates the strong from the weak.  So you’ve chosen the schools you want to apply to, written the essays, gained acceptance, and narrowed it down…now it’s time to TALK MONEY.  And contrary to what the financial college pamphlets may lead you to believe from the smiling faces on happy high school students, this time can be just as stressful, if not more, than the actual admissions process.  Just depends on several factors.

A. Parental and Mentor Knowledge of FAFSA process

B. Your access to parental and mentor knowledge of FAFSA process

C. Parental Aptitude at Organizing Past Financial Records from Tax Season


D.   College’s Level of Helpfulness in Providing Financial Support

*Private or State public school?  Large or small endowment?  Need-blind admission?    No-Loan Policy?

E.    High school’s Knowledge of College Financial Process

F.    Personal Knowledge of College Financial Process

So, if you are lucky enough to have parents that have conquered this process a few times before and have great organizational skills (know where last year’s W-2 forms are at)…you’re on the right track.  If your high school has a great counselor program that is actively in touch and “in-the-know” about the financial aid process, you’re zipping right along.  And finally, if your college is miraculously helpful and easy to reach during this money-crazed period, you are IN THE END ZONE! BINGO! WAY TO GO!

But…in the off-chance that your parents aren’t exactly sure of what they’re doing, or perhaps…know next to nothing…

And your high school counselor vaguely knows the process…

And your college can only be reached during the hours that you are attending class…and do not return calls after many urgent voicemails, and cannot be contacted by email, Skype, Facebook, or text…

Then you are closer to my experience of FAFSA and the financial aid process.  I still get goose bumps thinking about some of it.  Personally, my family didn’t know that much…my high school counselors knew mainly about in-state assistance, and a few of my schools seemed impossible to get in contact with.  I sat down with my mom one night, and three hours later, we’d battled through FAFSA.  I still had to make three corrections later on, in fear that the IRS or some similar tax-service would consider my accidental errors an attempt to harbor money from the country.  However, after the FAFSA, it was time to sit around and wait until I received initial offers.

This next statement is not an attempt to sell my school…just an acknowledgment of the truth.  Pomona was AMAZINGLY helpful with financial assistance.  I was able to reach them during office hours (2-hour time change might have made a difference), and often, they knew what I was referring to before I did.  After receiving the first offer, I was able to repeal the amount after explaining that my family’s situation was not correctly represented on the FAFSA.  Cutting to the end of the story, I accepted an amount that alleviated all stress from my family’s end, allowing me to attend a school that would have been completely out of my league.

For high school students, I’d recommend that you talk to high school counselors and do your best to get in touch with the financial aid counselors at your top colleges.  Sit down with your parents in plenty of time to complete the FAFSA, and try to have all of the necessary materials beforehand.  Keep financial aid a top priority until after you receive an offer that works for you.  Try not to get discouraged…and keep your goals in mind.

It’s one of those—“Keep your eye on the prize”—sort of things.  It’s easy to get caught up in the stress and frustration of finding the money you need…but at the end of swimming upstream in search of it, you’ll find that it was well worth it!