Another Admissions Advantage for the Affluent: Just Pay Full Price

Plenty of schools don’t mention their need-aware status anywhere on their websites, even though this is one of the first questions many families would ask. You can sometimes find articles about need-aware admissions in alumni magazines and campus newspapers, however, if you search with the question “Is X College need-blind?”

One notable exception is Oberlin, where a seven-year-old blog post by an admissions employee named Elizabeth Myers Houston offers a rare glimpse into the world of need awareness.

“We do accept some students on the edge of admissibility because they can contribute to the costs of an Oberlin education,” she wrote. “On the other hand, we invariably find ourselves wait-listing or denying some students each year who are otherwise well qualified and appealing, due to a high level of financial need.”

And then, a wee bit of deserved shade cast on Oberlin’s silent peers: “Most schools do this, although, like those of us at Oberlin, most college reps will avoid talking about it like the plague. But we know. Savvy high school guidance counselors know as well, and sometimes they’ll even bring it up when talking to us about their students. In the spirit of fairness and equal distribution of information, I wanted to make sure that you know, too.”

Ms. Houston was not fired for her candor. In fact, she is now Oberlin’s associate director of admissions. I hoped to get her on the phone to do even more truth-telling, but she had time only for email this week.

“It’s hard to be on an admissions committee and have to make decisions based on financial need,” said Ms. Houston, who said she was a Pell Grant recipient who was able to attend Oberlin only because of a generous financial aid package. “When I would be in a committee that was deciding not to admit an otherwise well-qualified applicant due to financial need, I would find myself thinking, ‘That could have been me.’”

Ms. Houston said she had been able to make peace with it, in part because keeping careful tabs on the budget allows Oberlin to be one of the schools that meets the full financial need of everyone it admits.


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