Recently, Ron Leiber in The New York Times dissolved one of the biggest myths in both the financial aid and admissions process: students don’t actually have to accept early decision offers if the financial aid offer isn’t adequate for their family. But even if it is deemed sufficient, it might be less than what another school would offer.
Here’s what families need to know about early college decisions:
What is so great about early decision that it’s worth the risk of getting less financial aid?
When a student has known they’ve wanted to go to a specific college since they were toddlers, they may ask for Early Decision, the college of their choice making a decision months earlier than they do other students. Students are encouraged to only apply to only one school for early decision. The bonus to the school is they know the student will likely accept. They can plan on the money the student or federal or state financial aid would contribute to the school. Plus, they may not have to offer as much merit-based financial aid to that student because they aren’t competing with other schools for them. .
The bonus to the student is they can start planning for their college transition much early than other students.
Why would a student not worry about the possibility of getting less merit aid at the college of their choice?
The easy group of students to answer this question for are the ones who don’t need financial aid. Their parents can afford to send them anywhere they’d like. The second group are students attending a school that only offers need-based aid. Some colleges, such as those in the Ivy League, only award need-based aid because they have the top academic students. Most of these students would qualify for merit aid at other colleges. Need-based aid is the same regardless of whether the student applied for early decision. The third group are students that were likely unaware their financial aid might be affected.
How can a student become aware of how early decision could affect their financial aid?
Robert Falcon, financial aid professional and CEO of College Funding Solutions, says students should start their search to determine whether a school matches their financial need by checking Net Price Calculators. He says most students can rely on the financial aid award to come close to what the calculator says when a lot of questions are asked. For instance, a calculator that only asks 5 questions won’t be as accurate as one that assesses your financed based on two pages of questions.
Luckily, the calculator works in reverse after you receive an early decision acceptance letter. It’s an easy thing to tell a school that you believed you’d get $40,000 in financial aid and the offer is $25,000. They’d prefer you humbly ask to see if the numbers can go up than losing a student.
It is frowned upon to reject an early decision offer if the financial aid offer is in line with what’s shown on Net Price Calculators. Do your homework before applying, negotiate when possible, and apply for early decision if the school is affordable without any merit-based aid. The best part of doing more research? You may find a better school for both the student’s interests and finances.