I have been writing college blog posts recently about teenagers who have arguably been applying to the wrong colleges. (Scroll to the bottom to see my three previous posts.)
All my posts have involved families who required financial aid, but today I’m sharing the plight of a father who is too wealthy to receive need-based help.
Anxious Dad’s Email
Here is the email that I received from the father, who is a financial adviser:
I have a high school senior who applied to Johns Hopkins University and was accepted. She is also going to play field hockey there. Being a typical “rose colored” glasses person, I figured we’d get some financial assistance. I filled out the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE. The package came back and there was ZERO assistance on there.
I thought the field hockey thing would provide her some backing and consideration but I was wrong. Additionally I’m usually very good at getting a straight answer from people and for some reason I didn’t from our liaison at JHU. I can’t believe JHU considers us rich! Does anyone back there know how expensive it is to live and raise a family in Southern California?
Needless to say, I’m a little discouraged and concerned since it’s such an expensive school. I know JHU has resources. I’m very surprised we did not get any assistance. I was wondering what you recommend.
I am sorry that your daughter didn’t receive any money from Johns Hopkins, but this is a university that almost never gives money to rich students. If you have a high Expected Family Contribution, which was generated by the PROFILE, your daughter would have had a slim to zero chance of getting any money.
Finding the Answer in the Common Data Set
Okay, so how did I know that Johns Hopkins rarely gives scholarships to well-off students? I looked at John Hopkins’ Common Data Set, which is a valuable document that many schools complete yearly that contains a great deal of information about such things as the institution’s need-based aid, merit awards, acceptance figures, academic profile of freshmen and much more.
Section H of any school’s Common Data Set contains the information on the number of students who apply for financial aid, the number who receive aid and what the typical financial aid package is. In the same section, the Common Data Set also shares whether the school gives merit awards to wealthy students.
Only a handful of wealthy students received money from Johns Hopkins, which reserves its financial awards to students with demonstrated financial need. Here is the pertinent section of Johns Hopkins’ Common Data Set:
In the 2010-11 school year (latest available), just 10 freshmen received merit scholarships, which were worth an average of $26,318. To give you a frame of reference, there were 1,241 students in the university’s freshmen class and 551 freshmen received need-based grants. The average need-based grant was $30,791. Doing the math, you can see that the majority of students — 680 – paid full price. Like a lot of highly prestigious East Coast schools, Johns Hopkins is crawling with rich kids, whose parents are footing the entire bill.
Almost all schools in this country award merit scholarships to rich students, but a few highly prestigious ones don’t give awards to these teenagers or they dispense just a few token scholarships. Johns Hopkins belongs in this category. Schools like all the Ivies and the very top liberal arts colleges don’t have to hand out merit money to wealthy teenagers because they institutions enjoy such high perches in US News & World Report’s college rankings that rich students flock to them without any carrots.
What About the Other Schools?
In responding to the dad’s email I suggested that there could be other schools on his daughter’s list that do give wealthy students merit money. Unfortunately, the two additional schools that he mentioned — MIT and Tufts University — are in the same category at Johns Hopkins.
Another way that you can research a school’s financial aid practices is to look at the institution’s profile on the College Board’s website. Click on the school’s Cost and Financial Aid link. Here is the link to MIT. You’ll find the pertinent statistic for the dad on the second-to-last line that says average non-need-based aid. In MIT’s case it says not reported. Whenever you see not reported that simply means no merit awards for rich kids.
When I checked Tufts University’s financial aid stats on the College Board, I saw that the average non-need based aid was $500. That’s essentially nothing. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find Tufts’ Common Data Set, which is irritating, but some schools don’t release it.
It’s always important to research the financial aid practices of schools before applying. Don’t make any assumptions.
Here are more posts on applying to the wrong schools when money is an issue:
ynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and a financial aid workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College: Great Ways to Cut the Price of a Bachelor’s Degree.