Students consider different factors when choosing colleges, but a student’s family’s ability to pay for college shouldn’t have more prominence than how the college fits the student’s academic needs. If a student’s family lives in Los Angeles on the national median yearly income of $60,000-$100,000, finances play too large a role in determining where she will attend college. Students from this middle group are often squeezed out of the financial aid system because their parents earn too much to qualify for large aid packages but earn too little to pay their expected contribution. Even at Marlborough, students who receive aid awards of 50- 60% are left to pay for college applications without aid, while those on an award of 85% or higher pay nothing.
In addition, institutions need to re-address the binding early decision program to truly become socioeconomically diverse. While the early decision application can improve a student’s chances of getting into her first-choice college, if the financial aid package the college can offer her family is a significant factor, then the student puts herself in a risky situation. While early decision applicants find out if they are admitted in mid-December, they do not find out what kind of financial aid they will receive until the spring. Though a student can break the bind if it turns out her family cannot meet the expected contribution from the package, those who fall into the middle class range cannot do the same; their families earn too much for a full package but too little to not feel the tightening grip on their wallets.
The Princeton Review website even states: “Apply early decision only if you are absolutely certain about your choice of school and financial aid is NOT a concern.”
Ivy League schools have attempted to alleviate this problem by offering work-study opportunities and percentages of aid to students within the $60,000-100,000 income range to eliminate the cumbersome option of student loans. While it’s true that most other colleges in the country don’t have the kind of funding that the Ivy League has to offer such aid, at the very least the early decision process should be either re-evaluated or obliterated to close the opportunity gap for middle class students.
More often than not, the middle group is underrepresented on college campuses. If applying is truly about finding the best school for a student, then a students shouldn’t have to weigh finances above other factors when applying. Early decision should no longer exist because family income causes students to shy away from applying to their dream schools. Otherwise, our nation’s institutions of higher learning, which pride themselves on having the crème de la crème of students, may find themselves losing a lot of that crème.