Should everyone start their college hunt with a FAFSA form in hand looking for aid to help pay for college? While that is the standard theory of what works, this year, may actually be somewhat different. This year, keeping away from those paid applications may actually help you improve your chances of being accepted.
The recession hasn’t just managed to batter families hanging on by a thread around the country. America’s colleges and universities have had a pretty rough going weathering the last two years as well. As a result, more colleges than ever before this year, are operating in open preference for the wealthy students – especially students who come from other countries – or waitlisted students. In short, they want those who will pay the full fare. This is what happened at Williams College last year. Colleges like Wake Forest University look closely at applicants’ financial backgrounds just as they do their scholastic performance and aptitude as a way to decide whom to accept. Elite schools like Dartmouth, Stanford and Yale, that have need-blind admissions policies, have taken to adjusting their aid granting policies so that wealthier families pull more of their own weight. Many private colleges actually had need-blind policies in the years before the financial crisis. Today though, many of these colleges have had their endowments badly damaged.
With more needy students applying each year, they are beginning to be a bit more measured with their generosity. Of course, the best performing students are still given preference; but students with marginal levels of performance but with the ability to pay for college outright with their own money have a very good chance of getting accepted too. Today, if when you apply to a college, you don’t apply for aid at all, you greatly improve your chances of being accepted. That would really apply to waitlisted students. But at any of these colleges, only about 5% of applicants can hope to be given preferential treatment for their ability to pay. A college usually runs its first round of selections based purely on the ability of the student and her merit. They do this as far as they can with the resources they have in hand. Once they run out of resources for aid, the seats that remain unfilled, get filled with students who are able to pay. They do need to stay afloat.
Public universities exercise a policy of granting all of their aid to in-state students. As state budgets begin to cut back on their aid budgets, universities in turn have been reduced to eyeing out-of-state students as a way to make up the shortfall. What this has done is, it has made public universities actually prefer out-of-state students – since they help them the most with their balance sheets. In-state students who stand to be granted aid have a hard time getting into any public university today.