Archive for Financial Aid

When Colleges Compete, You Win!

Athletic recruiting at the selective Tier 1 colleges comes down to 2 things: admissions support and an acceptable financial aid offer. The likelihood of achieving both of those is greatly increased if there is more than one selective college recruiting you.

Let’s start with admissions support. Whether we’re talking about Likely Letters in the Ivy League or being told that you’re on the coach’s list in the NESCAC or Patriot League, it’s important to remember what purpose those early indications serve from the perspective of the college. The Likely Letter is not a reward for your strong athletics and academics. The Likely Letter is an early-indication tool that the school uses to let a potential recruit know that he or she will be admitted (barring any major screw-ups). Since Regular Decision notifications aren’t given until early April, the schools know that many athletes will be under pressure to make their commitments much earlier than that and the LL gives them the assurance they need to pass on the other offers. The school uses this tool if they feel there is a good chance you’ll take an offer elsewhere. If no other competing school is recruiting, the incentive for a school to give you that early indication is not as strong.

The other important component is the financial aid offer. Many of the Tier 1 colleges only offer need-based financial aid. You submit your CSS and FAFSA forms and the financial aid computer spits out a number. That number is going to vary a lot depending on the school. Endowment size vs. enrollment allow some schools to be much more generous than others. Here’s a link to Ivy League financial aid comparisons that shows just how much they can vary. But those numbers aren’t written in stone. If an athlete has a financial aid offer from another school within the conference, there’s a very good chance that School 1 will attempt to match the offer from School 2. Without a competing offer, there isn’t much incentive for the school to improve their offer.

So even if you are getting interest from your dream school, you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you close the doors too soon. Strong interest from other schools, especially within the conference, will only improve your chance for admissions support and a good financial aid package.

Early Decision for Athletes

As a recruited athlete at one of the Tier 1 Colleges, the coach will probably request that you apply Early Decision or Early Action if he is helping support you through admissions. Although The Common Ivy League Agreement states:

“A coach may both inquire about a candidate’s level of commitment to an Ivy institution, or interest in attending that Ivy institution, and encourage that interest. However, a candidate may not be required to make a matriculation commitment, to withdraw other applications, or to refrain from visiting another institution, as a condition for receiving a “likely” letter, or an estimate of financial aid eligibility, or a coach’s support in the admissions process”

The reality of the situation is that a coach will encourage you to go ED/EA and if you are unwilling, he may feel he has to move down the list. This situation isn’t unique to the Ivy League. Selective D3 colleges operate in a similar manner.

Since all financial aid is need-based in the Ivy League and many selective D3 colleges, binding Early Decision can put you in a bad spot if financial aid is going to be a concern. If you are accepted Early Decision, but find that the FA award is insufficient, generally speaking, you are allowed to withdraw from the ED commitment. The burden, however, will be on you to demonstrate that the Financial Aid award is insufficient.

To help avoid an unpleasant surprise from the FA office, get a financial aid pre-read before pulling the trigger on your ED application. The pre-read is an estimate, but should be accurate provided that you give them good information. Also, if your actual offer comes in much lower than your pre-read estimate you have stronger case to withdraw from the ED commitment (or ask for a re-evaluation).

Early Decision for Athletes Without Support

But how about if there is no support coming from the coach – is it still advantageous to apply ED or EA?

If you look at the data from some of the Tier 1 colleges, it certainly looks like it’s wise to apply Early Decision/Early Action. Let’s look at Princeton as an example. According to the Princeton Newsletter, in the class of 2016, 726 students were accepted out of 3443 in the Single Choice Early Action pool. That translates to a 21% acceptance rate – far higher than the 7.9% of applicants accepted overall.

Ivy League Early Decision 2016

Ivy League Early Decision Acceptance Rates 2016


It seems like a no-brainer, if you want to maximize your chances at your dream school, apply early-decision or early-action, right?  But let’s dig behind the numbers a little bit.

The vast majority of recruited athletes apply during the Early Decision or Early action round. At a school like Princeton, it’s safe to say that approximately 250 athletes are issued Likely Letters (and maybe another 150 Likely Letters go to non-athletes). So, out of the 726 students accepted in the Early Action round, approximately 400 of them were Likely Letter recipients and their acceptance was a foregone conclusion.

If we take the Likely Letter applicants out of the equation we see that for non-supported applicants, approximately 325 out of a pool of 3043 were accepted. That gives a rate of 10.6%. Still better than the 7.9% overall, but not by much.

The numbers are similar throughout the Ivies and in the NESCAC as well. Most supported athletes are coming through in the early rounds and that skews the early acceptance numbers significantly.

So as an athlete – your ED or EA application is a way to demonstrate your commitment to attend which is key to getting support through admissions. But if you are not being supported, does it make sense to commit to ED / EA?

When you take to Likely Letter applicants out of it – there just doesn’t seem to be a big advantage to going ED. The downside of ED is that you also lose some control over your Financial Aid award.

For those who have been through a binding ED process, were you satisfied with your financial award? If not, were you able to get it changed?



Comparing Financial Aid – Question From a Parent

I recently received the following e-mail from a parent, and I think she brought up some excellent questions and concerns about comparing financial aid:

Our child is a top student-athlete (1st in her class/AP scholar/2370 SATs) who has been invited for official visits at three top Ivy League schools.
Since we are new to this process we didn’t realize how accelerated the timeline is for these students. We had always thought she would apply Early Action to her 1st choice school, and, if admitted, apply regular decision to a couple of others, with the idea of comparing financial aid packages.

As we understand it, athletic recruitment puts a new wrinkle in this–even though you are admitted non-binding Early Action to a top Ivy, the recruited student has committed to the coach of his first-choice school to be on the team, which essentially eliminates applying elsewhere regular decision if the student is going to honor his/her commitment to play for that school (which our daughter would definitely want to do).

We just learned about the financial aid pre-read option from your website and were hoping you might be able to answer some questions we have.

We have never mentioned the need for financial aid up to this point. Is it too late in the process to ask for a financial aid pre-read? (she completed 1 OV and has 2 more this month)

Can we ask it from all 3 schools, and then ask her 1st choice school to match the best package without jeopardizing her admissions desirability? Also can you ask about matching finaid before a student is admitted or do you wait until after she (hopefully) gets a likely letter and/or acceptance?

Thanks for your help

Thanks for the email – you bring up some great questions. Recruited athletes, especially in the Ivy League, have to deal with some unique challenges. The financial aid pre-read is your best friend in this situation. You can certainly request it from the coach at this point (who can possibly expedite it from the FA office). The more lead time the better, obviously. I would request it as soon as the arrangements have been made for an official visit. (requesting a FA pre-read before the coach has even offered an official would be a little, well, presumptuous)

You should definitely try to get a pre-read from each school that you’ll be attending an Official Visit so you can compare financial aid packages. You may find a big discrepancy between the awards at each school. I used some arbitrary numbers on each of the Ivy Financial Aid calculators and found some interesting results.

After your daughter has taken her officials, now the dance can get a little tricky. She’ll probably have a favorite school. The coaches will have their top list of recruits they want and each school will have given you a different cost estimate. Ideally, you want to end up on the coaches list at your top school and with the best financial aid package. Getting on the coaches list at your top school is beyond the scope of this article – so let’s focus on getting the best FA package.

When the talk comes down to Likely Letter offers and telling the coach how much you want to be a part of his program – I think that’s a perfect opportunity to talk about finances. My advice is to approach this topic in the manner of one who is asking for help rather than slapping three pre-reads on his desk and asking him to match it. Realize that the financial award (in the Ivy League) is completely out of his hands. He may, however, know if the financial aid office is receptive to matching offers. Different schools have different policies on this. Remember, the coach brought you out for a reason, if he wants you on the team, he’ll do everything in his power to help make that happen. Ivy League schools are need-blind, so don’t worry that requesting a review (a better phrase than ‘negotiating’) will negatively impact your desirability as a recruit.

The advice here is all my opinion, so take it as such. Good luck!


Ivy League Financial Aid Comparisons

You probably already know that in the Ivy League financial aid is all need-based, there are no merit or athletic scholarships. But what you may not realize is that your need-based financial aid award can vary by tens of thousand of dollars depending on the school.

Hypothetical Ivy League Financial Aid Awards

I made up a fictitious upper middle-class family and ran the numbers on the financial aid calculators at the various Ivy League schools. Here’s the scoop on our family with Ivy League aspirations:

  • Married with 2 kids, oldest starting college and younger sibling is 15
  • The live in a $400,000 home in Virginia and have $80,000 in equity
  • Both parents work, earn a combined income of 150K and earned 5K in interest income last year. They had an adjusted gross income of 135K and paid 26K in Federal taxes.
  • They contributed 15K to their 401K last year (warning: your retirement contributions are usually added back in when calculating financial aid!)
  • They have 10K in cash and 80K in non-retirement investments
  • The prospective student has 5000 in savings and earned 2500 last year. Sorry kid, no trust fund.
  • No other real estate, businesses or farms
  • I named them ‘The Smithers’

I entered their info into the various calculators and came up with some very interesting outcomes. A couple of things to keep in mind, I took one, hypothetical situation. Unless, by some freakish coincidence, your numbers exactly match those I entered – you will likely have a different result.


Princeton’s financial aid calculator was the most generous of the Ivy League financial aid calculators for the Smithers family. With a grant award of $29,830 toward Princeton’s $57,010 cost of attendance, it would cost the Smithers family $27,180 each year for their oldest daughter to attend Princeton.


The Yale calculator gave a total cost of attendance for 2013 of $58,950. It awarded the Smithers $30,659., leaving them responsible for $28,291. each year. (All of the schools had some sort of student work component available to help defray the remaining costs – usually about 4000 per year)


The Harvard calculator was not quite as detailed as the rest. but it was quicker and easier to use. After entering the data, it spit out an award of $28,800 toward the $58,300 cost of attendance. The resulting cost to the family was $29,500.

In general, the substantial endowments at Harvard, Yale and Princeton make them the heavy hitters of Ivy League financial aid. The awards at the remaining schools may look smaller by comparison, but remember – there are very few colleges in the world that would provide any need-based money at all to a family like the Smithers.


I plugged the Smither’s numbers in the Penn financial aid calculator and found that Penn could come up with a grant of $21,700 toward the $59,750 cost of attendance. That left an annual cost of $38,050.


Columbia’s online calculator returned a grant of $18,281 toward the $59,396 cost of attendance. The resulting annual cost for the Smither’s kid to go to Columbia was going to be $41,115.


The Cornell Calculator gave a grant of $16,578. toward the $59,926 cost of attendance. Annual cost for the Smithers kid to attend Cornell: $43,348.


Ivy League financial aid, in general, is exceptionally generous. But running the numbers for our fictitious upper middle class family on the Brown calculator looks like they might have to tighten their belts a little to make it work. The cost of attendance for 2013 is $56,550 and the expected grant was $9960., leaving an annual cost of $46,590.


The Dartmouth calculator gave the Smithers family a grant of $15,655, but Dartmouth also had the highest annual cost of attendance in the Ivy League at $62,400 for 2013. That left $46,745 for the family to pay each year.


Ivy League Financial Aid Analysis

The annual cost difference between attending Harvard, Yale or Princeton and attending Dartmouth or Brown is about $18,000. for the Smithers family (any resemblance to a real family is purely coincidental). Multiply that by 4 years and they are looking at a $72,000 difference over the course of their daughter’s undergrad education.

Now, if you are in love with Dartmouth (and there’s a lot to love about it) but find yourself in that doughnut hole of college financing where you earn too much to get a big grant, but you can’t swing 45K per year, there is hope.  These numbers are not written in stone.

If you can get a financial aid offer from one of the big 3 (HYP),  you may have some success getting other schools in the Ivy League to compete and match those offers. I’m already running long here, but here’s a great article on schools matching offers for athletic recruiting in the Ivy League.



Financial Aid Pre-Read for Athletes

If you’re being recruited by schools that don’t offer athletic scholarships (Ivy League and Division 3), you’ll probably want to get a financial aid pre-read before committing, (unless you’ve already determined that you won’t qualify for any aid based on the financial aid calculators).

The financial aid pre-read is facilitated by the coach, and ideally you have it before you make your official visit. With a good estimate of your financial aid package in hand, it’s a lot easier to make a decision about committing to an Early Decision application.

Here’s how the process works: Once you are at the point in the recruiting process where the coach is starting to talk about official visits, ask him about getting a financial aid pre-read. He can contact a financial aid officer who will send you the appropriate documents. Most schools use the FAFSA and the CSS Profile. The CSS, in particular, is very detailed. In addition to the student and parent income (you’ll have to estimate the current year), it will want to know about savings, home equity – sometimes even the make, model and years of the cars in the family.

Complete the documents and return them the the Financial Aid office. The coach will request a priority read – otherwise the documents could sit in a pile on a desk for weeks. With your financial aid estimate in hand, you are now able to make an informed decision about your college choice.

As an interesting side-note on the financial aid pre-read, I got an email from someone who had read The Essential Guide to Ivy League Athletic Recruiting, (shameless plug), and he asked,

“You recommend that families get a financial aid pre-read before making an official visit…all else being equal, are prospective recruits from wealthy families more attractive to college coaches, admissions offices and financial aid offices…as such families pay full tuition, room & board, books and fees?”

I thought that was actually a great question. Many of the schools listed as Tier 1 Colleges are need blind for U.S. applicants. That means that your ability to pay has zero bearing on your admission chances. In the Ivy League every school claims to be need-blind. The income and asset statements that you provide for the financial aid pre-read will not have a bearing on your attractiveness as a recruit. Actually, a recruit that qualifies for a lot of financial aid can be seen as a positive in the eyes of an Ivy League coach. If he can offer a recruit a strong financial aid package, the coach knows he’ll be able to compete financially against schools that are able to offer athletic scholarship money.

If paying for college is going to be a concern for you, get the pre-read so you don’t have any unpleasant surprises after you have already committed.