I returned from the national admissions conference to a slew of questions about our scholarship standards, mostly from prospective applicants wanting to know RIGHT NOW (before applying, before we’ve started reviewing any applicants) whether or not they will receive a scholarship. Given the financial climate, that may not be surprising, but I think it’s also related to changes in the information colleges and universities supply about our scholarships.
Many many years ago, when colleges were less cut throat, there was a universal agreement not to guarantee scholarships before students applied, as the awards sounded way too much like we were trying to buy your interest, and most colleges felt this was the wrong impression for schools to give.
But times have changed.
Now it’s common practice to get around this agreement by giving very specific numbers where students will get awards – even though colleges know these numbers (rank/gpa) are radically different by school or (SAT/ACT) mean very little from an academic standpoint (although a lot from a rankings standpoint). Some go so far as to send award letters to students who haven’t even applied based on scores and self reported grades you supply when you fill out the SAT/ACT forms.
Mason still doesn’t print criteria because we still review scholarships candidates the way we review applicants, by reading their applications. Of course, higher GPA/SAT/rank all count significantly, but we also bear in mind the strength of their program and, to a much lesser degree, essays and recommendations. Personally, I think that’s how it should work. I also hope that, although Mason costs a lot less than the other DC area schools, that students will explore all of the schools that might be a good match, and wait to see how scholarships and financial aid end up before making a decision.
But this may be unrealistic. The truth is that many of you will decide very early in your senior year, some even in junior year, which schools will make your “apply” list. Knowing that is the case, universities rush to influence you any way we can, and one of those ways is by dangling money in front of you. This leads to a lot of pressure to raise tuition in order to offer more scholarships, a practice called “discounting” (we NEVER call it that when we talk to applicants, or parents, or legislators – but we talk about it ALL the time when we admissions officers get together at conferences).
After all this my colleagues spend a lot of time wringing their hands about how the whole process is more adversarial, and how students treat us like the stereotypes of used car salesmen. They seem genuinely surprised that such tactics increase the sense that this is more a business transaction than an academic decision.
In my dream world of admissions, you’re all savvy enough to see right through all of that hoopla, and continue to carefully consider which schools are the right match weighing the dollars as one factor. Also, we have flying cars. mmmmmm.
Once we get into the admission/financial aid/scholarship award season (February and March) I’ll add some detail on how universities manipulate these awards, and what (if anything) you can do about it. Be seeing you.
Filed under: Education |