The University has received 11 percent more applications for financial aid compared to last year and the total percent of students receiving aid from GW has risen to 64 percent, the University’s top financial aid officer said last week.
Daniel Small, executive director of the Office of Financial Assistance, said his office worked closely with the admissions office this year to address the economic climate by encouraging more students to apply for financial aid early on in the admissions process. Small said that encouragement could account for the spike in aid applications.
“Working with the admissions office, we tried to make it aware to incoming students that if finances are a concern, they need to apply for financial aid,” Small said. “That sort of opened up the dialogue.”
Despite efforts to proactively reach incoming and returning students, the office has already received about 335 appeals, or written documentation asking for more aid in light of circumstances that have arisen since the original financial aid application was sent.
“We realize when we do awards that circumstances will change,” Small said, adding that the total number of appeals was at an all-time high of 550 at the end of last academic year.
As University administrators sift through appeals, nearby universities are also seeing dramatic increases in the number of appeals. A recent Washington Post article said The University of Maryland has received nearly 1,000 appeals for the upcoming year, more than three times as many as GW.
But even as students make their way to campus for the first day of classes Monday, a number of undergraduates have had their financial aid appeals go unanswered.
“We’re trying to respond in a timely manner,” Small said, noting that it has been difficult to respond to some appeals with fewer supporting documents than others.
One continuing undergraduate student said she was told by the office not to bother with an appeal.
“I went to the office and my mom had been calling to understand the appeal process and they said an appeal really wouldn’t be worth it,” sophomore Courtnay Oddman said.
Oddman added that while her mother did not lose her corporate job, because of the recession, her family’s financial situation isn’t as sound as it may look on a financial aid application.
“Even though it might say that we are doing well on paper, she is actually not realistically doing well,” Oddman said. “They haven’t taken that into consideration.”
Small said the office has tried its best to provide options to students who submit appeals, even when the University cannot directly fill an appeal.
“Everybody would like to come in and say ‘I need $15,000 and a grant’ or this that and the other,” Small said. “The staff will say no, we can’t provide that, but we can give you options.”
Small also added that he has seen more parents encouraging their children to work part-time under the Federal Work Study program, whereas in the past they might discourage their children to work during their first year in college.
“There is more of a conversation with students and parents saying to each other, ‘Yes, you have to work,’ ” Small said. “We’ve found that if a freshman or sophomore just works seven to 12 hours a week, it really does not affect academics.”
Freshman Will Gluckin said GW was “the most generous school” that he applied to, but his father, Neil Gluckin, said his family, like many others, has had to change its priorities in response to the recent economic situation.
“The economic downturn didn’t change the kinds of schools we considered, but changed the way we prioritize value in our life,” Neil Gluckin said. “Financial planners would probably look negatively at what we are doing, but we have decided our children’s education is worth any sacrifice.”