Early Decision, Aid Not Always Straightforward

Originally posted: February 29, 2012

This month Wesleyan University sent admissions decisions to students who had applied for its second round of early decision. Admitted students who received financial aid were notified of their aid awards along with their acceptances.

As it packages aid awards, the financial-aid staff moves from the philosophical to the practical. “It’s no longer in the aggregate,” says John Gudvangen, the financial-aid director. “It’s the specific case right in front of you.”

The second early-decision pool is quite a bit smaller than the regular group the aid office will soon be working with, but the process is much the same.

Each aid application is analyzed by Mr. Gudvangen or an associate or assistant aid director. The directors each have two computer screens to help them see all of the information contained in students’ electronic applications. They also look at families’ tax returns, which Wesleyan collects in hard-copy form for freshman applicants.

After reviewing an application, the director essentially pushes a button that will put together an award using the university’s philosophy, Mr. Gudvangen says. At Wesleyan that means admitted students get up to a certain amount of loans and work-study, and then the rest of their calculated need is met with grants.

Most of the time, a director can move a student’s case from application to aid award in about 15 minutes, Mr. Gudvangen says.

But sometimes it’s not so simple. A family might be going through a tricky financial situation, like a parent’s job loss. A student might run into trouble trying to gather information from his noncustodial parent, which Wesleyan requires. A family might have a business arrangement for which the numbers simply don’t add up.

In more-complex cases like these, the director will bring an applicant’s file to a committee meeting of all five director-level staff members. The group will discuss the student’s situation and come to an agreement about how to proceed. Often the next step is to ask the family to send in more information. Depending on how long the back and forth with the family takes, a student might not get her aid award until after her admissions decision.

Wesleyan still sends out paper admissions decisions and aid awards, but it also releases the information online to applicants who log in after a specified time on decision day. The aid office might start to receive phone calls from admitted students with questions about their aid packages mere minutes after those decisions are released.

The aid office gets many phone calls in February as it is, from families trying to get their paperwork sorted out before colleges’ application deadlines. At Wesleyan, one director is assigned to handle phone calls each day, freeing up the others to do other work. Most calls are handled by front-office staff, but those calls are passed on to the director level if a family’s situation is unusual—or if a caller is being difficult.

Mr. Gudvangen maintains some sympathy for callers who are less than polite. After all, the financial-aid process brings out a great deal of personal information, both financial and familial. “We’re asking people to kind of talk about, expose, all sorts of things that probably for many years have caused stress,” he says.

Those conversations can be tough, Mr. Gudvangen says, but the staff has to have them. A year at Wesleyan requires a $60,000 investment on someone’s part, he says, and it’s his office’s job to decide who will meet how much of that cost.

CollegeNews Story Archive

CollegeNews is now Liberal Arts Success

CollegeNews has brought you the latest information from over 125 liberal arts colleges for over ten years. Now it’s transforming into something even greater. Visit liberalartssuccess.org and learn more about the impact of liberal arts education on the individual and on society.

Visit the Liberal Arts Success website »

Search CollegeNews