Lyndsey Wajert: Students are not dollar signs

Remember when, instead of term paper due dates, it was your college application deadlines looming over you? Though you filled out all the forms with the correct information, attached eloquent personal essays and even included copies of your work featured in the high school literary magazine, could you ever truly shake the feeling that to colleges, you were merely another number?

Well, according to a recent New York Times article, some colleges have confessed that they do see applicants as numbers. But instead of focusing primarily on GPAs and SAT scores, the current economic situation is unfortunately forcing some colleges to look at applicants as dollar signs.

The March 30 article titled “Paying in Full as Ticket into College” states that “facing fallen endowments and needier students, many colleges are looking more favorably on wealthier applicants as they make their admissions decisions this year.” While many colleges – such as Brandeis University, Bowdoin College and us here at GW – proclaim to be “need-blind” when considering applicants, the financial downturn has some admissions offices contemplating accepting more of those waitlisted, transfer or international students who are able to pay the majority of their own way.

Although this development is, at some level, regrettable, for some schools it is necessary. The most reputable of colleges pride themselves on socioeconomic diversity, and many students thrive in such an environment. But those colleges with low endowments or a significant number of students on aid will be unable to allocate money to all of those who apply for it, even if those prospective students would have qualified in the past. So, if the decision is between two very similar waitlisted applicants, chances are the one who is better endowed economically may win the spot.

In a recent column, I speculated that GW’s dependence on tuition might force the admissions office into taking a higher quantity of students, forgoing our “selective” reputation. I reasoned that some applicants may overlook GW because of its steep tuition, so accepting more students will increase the chances that many will actually attend the next fall.

Thankfully, this is not yet the case, as a recent Hatchet article “Admissions steady in rocky times” (April 2, p.1) reports that this year’s “total selectivity remained almost unchanged at 37 percent.” GW seems – so far – financially capable of maintaining its level of acceptance, and our status as a need-blind institution means that the fiscal circumstances of the 19,500 applicants were not factors in the admission process. The article also stated that “Despite increased applications for aid … the University has not changed its need-blind admission policy.” This suggests that the incoming class of 2013 will likely be just as academically qualified and economically diverse as the rest of the GW community.

So for at least one more year, GW and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions remain relatively unscathed by the worldwide economic crisis. February’s 10 percent increase in financial aid was a very smart and much appreciated move on the part of the University’s Board of Trustees, as applicants and current students seem optimistic about their futures as Colonials.

I too am optimistic about the strength of our financial assets, even though we as a private, tuition-based institution face substantial pressure in these uncertain times. Yet I am hopeful that GW will never lift its need-blind status to evaluate which applicants would bring in the most money. Because unlike other colleges across the country, GW should continue to value its diversity by looking at prospective students for what they actually are, not as dollar signs.

The writer, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.

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