24 Nov

Ivy Leagues Bid for Students With Increasing Scholarships

One of the first college funding “secrets” I discuss with my clients is how, with a scholarship award, a prestigious private school can actually cost about the same as a public college or university. With a sticker price difference in the tens of thousands of dollars, most of my clients have found this to be surprising–yet it’s true.

Playing the Game

Last December I wrote about Harvard’s impressive new financial aid rules, which changed their policy so that students whose families made $180,000 or less were guaranteed aid and only expected to contribute a total of 10% of their income to college costs.

Now a recent U.S. News article indicates that Cornell has announced a new policy of their own: they will match the financial aid offers of admitted students who also got into other Ivy League colleges and also “strive to match the parental contribution and loan levels” at their peer schools Duke, Stanford, and MIT. According to U.S. News, Dartmouth has agreed to follow a similar policy. With price tags upwards of $50,000 a year, any additional aid from these schools can make a big difference for students worried about how to pay for an Ivy League education.

The Secret is Out

For years I have helped students use competing financial aid offers to encourage the student’s first choice college to offer a higher scholarship bounty to entice the student to attend–and many students have ended up with higher financial aid packages than they would have otherwise.

The truth of the matter is that the college admissions process is big business: colleges want to make the best investment to get the best return on their money. That means many schools will compete with each other for students with good grades or other merits, for students they see as potential future benefactors, or for students they feel might bring prestige or recognition to their institution. And, as demonstrated by Cornell’s and Dartmouth’s new aid policies, they will bid against each other to attract the students they want.

Not Just for Straight A Students

At highly competitive schools such as Cornell and Dartmouth, it is usually the students with the highest grades, test scores and most impressive resumes who get the scholarship rewards.  But even students with a less-than-perfect GPA may be able to get schools to bid for them.

To increase the chances of getting offered higher aid awards, it is important that students apply to schools at which they are competitive students (in the top 25% of the applicant pool), and that the schools they apply to compete with each other for the same type of students. (Keep this in mind as your student finalizes his or her college list.)

After your family has received all your financial aid award letters next spring, you can compare them and, if appropriate, attempt to get additional funding from your student’s top-choice school by leveraging larger awards from competing schools. Your student’s school of choice may or may not bite, but if your student is highly desirable to the college, your family may indeed be offered additional grant or scholarship money, or a tuition discount.  (Note: it is not appropriate to ask for additional financial aid from a college unless your student will definitely accept the offer of admission if the school grants the request.)

All the best,
Deborah Fox

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