How much do college admission reps know about financial aid?
Many of them know next to nothing.
I was reminded of this reality this week when I was attending the annual conference of the Western Association for College Admission Counseling in Costa Mesa, CA. This is a group that represents colleges, as well as high school counselors and independent college consultants.
During a financial aid session, a speaker, who is currently a high school counselor, joked about the financial aid training that she received before she started her job as a university admission rep.
When she began her university job, the speaker recalled that she was instructed to tell parents and students to complete the FAFSA to qualify for aid and if families had any other aid questions to direct them to the financial aid office. Other reps chuckled in recognition when she was sharing her story.
I have written about this shocking lack of knowledge in a previous post that I wrote after attending another conference. Here it is:
About a year ago, a respected financial aid/admission director at an elite institution told me that my suspicion about admission reps was true. Unless someone is a high-level administrator in an admission office, it’s unlikely that he or she understands how aid is dispensed at their institution.
Why Keep Admission Reps in the Dark?
Why would private and state colleges and universities keep their reps in the dark? If you are as cynical as I am about the higher-ed world operates perhaps you know the answer.
If reps are in the dark, admission reps are free to act as cheerleaders when meeting parents and students. At college fairs and other settings with families, they can brag about the merit scholarships that schools offer and how plentiful they are. At the same time, they aren’t saddled with the knowledge that their schools are probably gapping.
When gapping occurs, a school accepts a student, but the financial assistance can be so inadequate that the applicant will usually attend a different school.
In some cases, the gap between what a family can afford and what the school offers can be tens of thousands of dollars. Often the students in this category are middle- and low-income students who are in the bottom half academically of the accepted students.
Ask an important questions about a school’s financial aid policy, such as what percentage of need a school typically meets and what percentage of students get their full need met, and you might get no response.
A Case of Disinformation
A consequence of this lack of knowledge is that it creates a lot of disinformation. The same session provided an excellent example of what I’m talking about.
During her presentation, the former admission rep showed a Power Point slide of merit scholarships offered by a private college in New York. She mentioned that this is a school that offers plenty of scholarship opportunities for students.
I felt my head was going to explode as I was listening to the counselor talk about the school’s generosity.
When I looked up the school’s financial aid stats on the College Board and COLLEGEdata, I discovered that the college is not generous to students who have financial need. The school only meets a stingy 65% of need and that includes loans. Just as troubling is that for all students, the school only meets 41% of financial need. In other words, after freshmen year, the awards drop precipitously.
If the speaker knew how to evaluate school’s financially by checking figures online, she wouldn’t be bragging about this institution’s generosity.
You must do your own research on schools. You can’t depend on admission reps to tell you the whole story.