Megan Xanthos: How need-blind deception hurts needy students

I wish I had known that by signing financial aid forms, I could have given away my spot at GW.

Like thousands of other students, I rely on financial aid to attend the University. Now, after administrators’ confessions that they are not completely need-blind in their acceptance policies, I feel blindsided.

It turns out that GW weighs financial need for about the bottom 10 percent of qualified applicants. During the first read on applications, admissions officers only take merit-based factors like essays, academic credentials and interview quality into account. Then, on the second round, neediness comes into play. Those who can’t pay could be relegated to the waitlist.

These new facts make me uneasy not only because I could have been one of these students – turned down from my top-choice school simply because of my inability to pay full tuition. But I also would never have known the true reason behind the decision.

Applying early decision to the University last year seemed a natural choice for me. GW has strong programs in the majors I was interested in, and the school’s D.C. location is appealing.

So after visiting the school twice – and after being told both times that the admissions process did not factor financial need – I put my faith only in GW. I applied early.

If I had known that financial aid was indeed factored in, I would have feared committing myself so heavily to a school that might turn me down due to my family’s financial situation.

If I was turned away from the University, I would not know that my application for aid could have been part of the decision. Because the need-aware policy was hidden, wait-listed students could have assumed that their academic scores or essays were subpar.

Of course, not meeting every student’s complete need is understandable. GW has finite resources and students like me inevitably have to take out student loans to cover the costs of education that GW could not accommodate.

But GW violated a sacred contract it has with applicants. Applicants give GW their time, money and faith. Universities need to give the full, honest truth. Even if it’s a messy truth.

Deciding where to apply to college is nerve-wracking. It’s typically the single biggest decision a 17-year-old has ever made.

That’s why the admissions and financial aid processes demand complete transparency. Going to a school where this isn’t the case is discouraging.

Megan Xanthos, a freshman majoring in English, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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