By: Reyna Gobel
There are few journalists among my peers that are who I want to be when I grow up. Ron Leiber from The New York Times brings the best of journalistic writing, empathy, and advocacy to the paying for college space. One of my proudest moments was when a loan servicer retrained customer service agents after I contacted them. They provided inaccurate information to thousands of borrowers when they hit a financial impasse. Unfortunately, I learned about the error because a women in remission from cancer qualified for an inexpensive repayment plan that wasn’t offered to her.
Leiber also has seen problems get fixed due to calling up colleges who aren’t giving families the full information needed for informed decision making. Recently, he wrote about early decision offers and uncovered the ability to reject them if the family can’t afford the school with the financial aid package offered.
Here’s what I learned from interviewing Ron Leiber:
High School Counselors Are Often Overwhelmed
Unfortunately, high school counselors, especially at public schools, may counsel hundreds of students each. Thus, they may not have time to learn individual school policies for rejecting early decisions. While it’s good to speak with the counselors and gather information, families should research potential financial aid awards on their own.
Early Decisions Can Be a Privileged Experience.
Applying for early decision gives students an admissions advantage at selective schools because the school assumes the student will attend. The school has good reason to believe this the student in applying for early decision at only one college. The process favors financially elite students because they can choose a higher education institution before seeing financial aid offers. And merit aid may be saved for high-achieving students colleges compete for. For instance, Leiber mentions Tulane wouldn’t give away money on December 13th it may need to woo students on April 29th.
Need-Based Aid Isn’t Affected.
Need-based aid is unaffected by early decision applications. Fill out the FAFSA and CSS Profile when required. While Merit aid might be, schools such as the Ivy League only offer need-based aid. These schools are safe for early decision applications. If a Net Price Calculator is dramatically different than your financial aid offer, you should negotiate with the financial aid office.
Don’t Fear Rejection from Asking Questions
Asking questions at the financial aid office such as how often and how they update their Net Price Calculations is not only important, but it also gives you clues as to how you’ll be treated when on campus. Don’t worry about asking too many questions. Just be polite as you ask.
Let Your Student Know Money Is Part of the Decision Process
Unfortunately, your student may not be able to attend a school if the price tag is too high. It’s disappointing. Discuss this possibility as soon as possible, as well as alternate college choices.
Contact Ron Leiber with Questions.
If a school’s early decision policy is confusing or their Net Price Calculator is dramatically off what you were offered, contact Ron Leiber. He’s gotten schools to update policies for accuracy on their websites. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.