It’s one of the most important factors that determine where a hopeful college student will attend school – or if they will be able to attend at all. And yet they are given precious little information about how it works. It, of course, is the financial aid award.
Schools seem to come up with this award (if they decide to give any aid at all) based on some Top Secret mysterious formula, which they generally won’t disclose. This leaves students pretty much in the dark, unable to even remotely predict which schools might give them the best aid package. It also leaves students without any insight about what changes they might be able to make in order to increase their aid eligibility or try to convince schools to sweeten their offer.
ProPublica recently did an excellent report about the need for transparency and more disclosure in the process that determines financial aid decisions.
Schools offer comparatively little information about exactly who they’re awarding aid to and for what. College-bound teens and their parents often resort to college forums, sharing their personal “stats” with strangers online to get advice on which colleges are likely to be generous with aid. Once they get their financial-aid awards, some even go back to these forums to compare their aid packages in an attempt to reverse engineer colleges’ criteria.
Most colleges offer “vague and superficial” disclosures about how they allocate their financial-aid dollars, said Mark Kantrowitz, a financial-aid expert with Edvisors, which publishes websites about paying for college. “They don’t give details about the actual formulas they use.”
This information would be very valuable to students and parents, and could help them identify their top college choices based on their financial situation – and prevent them from getting their hopes up about schools they won’t be able to afford.