While college acceptance rates are dropping each year, tuition rates are rising. According to Collegeboard, the average college tuition for 2014-2015 was $32,762 for public schools and $42,419 for private schools, for an increase of 2.9% compared to 2013-2014. According to CNN Money, the most expensive college in the U.S., Sarah Lawrence College, costs as much as $65,480, closely followed by Harvey Mudd, Columbia, NYU, and U Chicago in that order. These top 5 most expensive colleges all cost more than $60,000.
Because of the skyrocketing cost of college tuition, not applying for financial aid sounds like an absurd idea. Who has this much money to burn, right? But here is what colleges don’t want you to know. Applying for financial aid can actually hurt your chance of admission.
Think about it. How will colleges afford their fancy libraries, cutting edge research facilities, and Nobel laureate faculty if not for the tuition they receive from you? So from colleges’ perspective, less financial need you have, the better it is for them. So then, how do they determine the financial need of a student?
Colleges assess your financial need from financial aid applications such as FAFSA and CSS Profile. When you fill out these applications, information about your parents’ income and assets become open to the admissions office of the colleges you are applying to, which can be used for or against you in admission.
Now, some colleges may claim that they are “need-blind” which means your illustrated financial need will not be considered in making admission decisions. If a college is “need-blind” it will usually state that clearly on its financial aid website. If a college is “need-aware,” well, it probably won't advertise that anywhere.
So, then should you apply for financial aid when applying to college? Although most colleges are need-aware, a student’s financial need will not be the sole factor in the acceptance process. Meaning, the concern over this matter may be a little overblown. If you have top stats, you will get in anywhere regardless of your financial need. Plus, if your family makes less than $80,000, there are many top colleges that may give you a full ride.
It’s a trade off, but if you have to give up applying for financial aid to get into a college, maybe that college is not the best fit for you anyway. Still, if you worry that applying for financial aid might harm your chance but you need financial aid, then I suggest not applying for financial aid until the next school year when you will be already in college. This advice, of course should be weighed carefully given your family’s financial circumstances.