When families look at financial aid packages they often assume that a school’s financial aid support will remain the same for four years. That, however, is a dangerous assumption to make.
The financial support that some colleges and universities give students will shrink after their freshmen year even as their yearly costs continue to rise.
Checking Aid Packages
Why would this happen?
I can’t speak for schools that do this, but you could certainly make the case that colleges are taking advantage of this reality: students don’t have a lot of leverage. A junior, for instance, who sees a drop in his aid package probably isn’t going to leave for another school. Families are going to find the extra money or borrow even more.
Financial Aid for Upper Classmen
When you’re researching schools, you want to check not only the average level of financial support for freshmen, but for other undergrads as well. I got that excellent advice from Ricki Bennett, a former administrator at the University of California and a vice president at COLLEGEdata.
At this point you are probably wondering how you can determine if a university will become stingy (or stingier) after a student’s freshman year. You can use COLLEGEdata, one of my favorite college research sites, to find out.
To illustrate what you can find, I first headed to the US Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center. I pulled a school from the federal lists of institutions with the most expensive net prices after average grants/scholarships are subtracted. Here is the list of the private schools that have the highest net prices in the nation:
Loyola Marymount University
I selected Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles because it has the dubious honor of having the biggest net price among private schools that aren’t in a niche like art and music. (As you can tell from the federal list, art and music conservatories, as a group, are the worst price hogs. )
Here are the financial aid stats for Loyola Marymount University:
There is a lot to look at here, but what I want you to focus on is the percentage of financial need met for freshmen (72%) and the average percentage of need met for all undergraduates (66%). This drop is reflected in the average need-based gift of Loyola Marymount students.
The average need-based gift aid for freshmen was $20,698 versus $19,117 for all undergrads. I should also mention that a school that only meets 72% of need is underwhelming, which helps explain, in part, why Loyola Marymount made the federal list. I recommend that students, who need significant financial aid, look for schools that meet a much higher percentage of need.
I also noticed that the percentage of affluent students at Loyola Marymount, who received merit scholarships, dropped significantly after their freshman year. While 27.9% of freshman received a merit scholarship, only 16.7% of undergrads had a merit scholarship. That’s a significant drop off of students qualifying for merit awards.
Just to show you that not all schools treat older students differently when it comes to financial aid, I selected a school with excellent financial aid – Haverford College. Haverford meets 100% of need for its freshman and all other undergrads. That’s as good as it gets.
Like a lot of elite schools that are ranked extremely high in U.S. News’ college rankings, Haverford doesn’t provide merit scholarships to rich students. It doesn’t have to because they will attend without the carrot.
When evaluating a school check the generosity (or lack of it) for all students, not just freshman. Here is another post that I’d suggest you read that focuses on another helpful tool from COLLEGEdata:
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of the second edition of The College Solution.