Over the next few weeks, the admitted Class of 2021 will decide whether GW is the right college for them. But for some admitted students, it won’t matter if GW was their top choice – many of them will have to say “no” because they can’t afford it.
Officials have tried to make the University more accessible for lower income students, but there are still many obstacles that keep students from coming to GW. Two years ago, admissions became test-optional, and last year in the program’s first admissions cycle, the Class of 2020 included a 33 percent increase in students from underrepresented groups. As admissions statistics roll in this year, it’ll be important for officials to see if the test-optional policy continues to make the undergraduate population more economically and racially diverse. But officials also have to start thinking about what comes after the SAT and ACT. Just because the University doesn’t require students to submit scores from these expensive tests doesn’t mean GW is automatically accessible.
GW must acknowledge that socioeconomic and racial diversity is not going to change as significantly as officials want until they realize that, while going test-optional may attract more students to apply, it will not help them make it to campus in the fall. Getting rid of the testing requirement does not change the fact that GW’s cost of attendance is more than $60,000. It doesn’t make sense to try to sell students on a school they think they will never be able to afford. Admissions officials should focus on a simple, cost-effective yet helpful course of action to make more prospective students aware of the financial aid GW offers and how to apply for it.
There may be some students who are not already aware of the generous financial aid universities like GW can offer, which may prevent them from ever even considering it as an option. Instead of just sending admissions representatives to high schools, the University needs to also start sending financial aid representatives to educate students on information like how to apply for aid, what kind of aid GW offers and when deadlines are.
While GW’s generous financial aid may make applying for it well worth it in the end, it’s a long and difficult process. The FAFSA and CSS profile – which GW requires for anyone applying for financial aid – can be complicated for someone to fill out. These forms can be intrusive, asking for specific details about families’ finances – like someone’s savings and whether an applicant has received welfare benefits – that some parents and applicants are not comfortable giving out.
The financial aid office can also become more approachable and accessible for students who have concerns while going through the financial aid process. Students calling the office should not need to transferred back and forth between different people to get their questions answered. With all the additional forms students need to submit – which includes signed copies of tax forms – financial aid officers should be clear and timely when communicating with students about what they are missing, or whether something they have submitted is wrong or incomplete.
Another potential obstacle for prospective students is that the University is still need-aware, which means a student’s financial background is considered throughout the admissions process. GW’s status as a need-aware university might keep some students from applying, because they think their financial situation will put GW out of reach. We realize that GW is not in the financial position to become need-blind or to lower the cost of attendance. However, the University can emphasize to applicants from lower-income brackets on admissions materials and websites that they shouldn’t worry about GW’s need-aware status significantly disadvantaging them either.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that GW should drop the test-optional policy and accept our reputation as a rich kid school. Going test-optional was a great first step, but it just can’t be the only step officials take in making GW accessible.
GW probably won’t ever be fully accessible for students from every socioeconomic background. As long as the University does not transition to a need-blind admissions process, officials should invest in making the test-optional policy a first step in accessibility, instead of the only step. It’s time for officials to prove they don’t want GW to be a university for only those at the top of the economic bracket.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Melissa Holzberg and contributing opinions editor Irene Ly, based on discussions with managing director Eva Palmer, homepage editor Tyler Loveless, contributing sports editor Matt Cullen and copy editor Melissa Schapiro.
This article appeared in the April 3, 2017 issue of the Hatchet.