After years of claiming to be a “need-blind” institution, The George Washington University (GW) announced on Oct. 18 that it waitlists hundreds of applicants every year because of their inability to pay full tuition. Marlborough School and other Los Angeles-area independent schools, such as Harvard-Westlake School and Polytechnic School, use a “need-aware” policy in their admissions processes, similar to the one used by GW. Being “need aware” means that a student’s need for financial aid is factored into the admissions process. For families seeking financial aid at Marlborough, sibling preference or legacy preference does not weigh as much in admissions decisions as it does for those applicants who are not seeking aid.
Director of Admissions Jeannette Woo Chitjian said that all applicants to Marlborough must first meet the School’s admissions requirements, but that if a legacy or sibling family has had a positive relationship with the School, the School does its best to honor that relationship.
According to the New York Times, independent schools generally seek to accept siblings and legacies because it’s convenient for families and “deepens relationships, which many believe results in long-term generosity.”
Aelish ’15 remarked that schools should, to the best of their abilities, help siblings to attend the same school to allow families to stay together.
Aelish’s point of view was echoed by several Marlborough students; the general consensus on campus seems to be that sibling preference is accepted and even encouraged by Marlborough girls.
However, Marlborough’s need-aware policy restricts sibling and legacy preference from extending to the pool of applicants who need financial aid.
“It gets tricky when a sibling or legacy family is applying for financial aid because they are put in that same group of families competing for our financial aid dollars. Although the School has a generous budget, it’s still limited, and sometimes that means we are unable to admit a sibling or legacy who has financial need,” Woo Chitjian said.
Schools need especially large endowments to employ a completely need-blind policy. Los Angeles independent schools Brentwood School and Flintridge Preparatory School are need-blind, but a need-blind policy is unusual for high schools and even the majority of colleges. Indeed, only about 2% of all four-year colleges in the United States are completely need-blind for U.S. applicants.
Until about ten years ago, Marlborough’s admissions process was need-blind. The School would admit qualified students regardless of financial need, but only some applicants applying for financial aid would be guaranteed aid—the rest, though accepted to the School itself, would be placed on a financial aid waitlist or simply told the School could not provide aid for them.
“Philosophically, it feels better to have a need-blind admissions policy. However, when you have two qualified students, both with financial need, and you only offer an award to one of them, it’s challencing to try to explain why one is being offered an award while the other is not,” Woo Chitjian said.
Woo Chitjian went on to explain that this policy led to difficulties for both families and the School, because, for example, a family might figure out how to pay for one year, but not the years following, leading to the withdrawal of their daughter from the school.
According to Director of Finance and Operations Nick Hernandez, Marlborough grants approximately two million dollars a year in financial aid—approximately 12 percent of the School’s operating budget. Although Allie ’14 said she recognized that Marlborough and other independent schools have only so much money for financial aid, she said that if some siblings have a greater chance to go to the same school, she thinks other siblings should be given that same opportunity as well.
Unlike The George Washington University, however, Marlborough has always been upfront about its financial aid admissions policy. And, Woo Chitjian said legacy and sibling families applying for financial aid in particular are disappointed when their daughter is waitlisted.