I just wrote an obnoxiously long comment on Tess's Glee post, so I decided to go on and write a full post about financial aid. Thanks for the inspiration, Tess!
Not even an hour ago I made a reference to Glee in an admissions interview. I was watching an episode the other day myself and was a little surprised that Finn is so focused on getting a scholarship so that he can go to college. He insists that in order for it to be possible for him to go to college, he'll need a scholarship--either in music or football, his two areas of specific talent.
In Oberlin's Financial Aid world, what he says he wants is called merit-based aid, but what it seems he actually needs is need-based aid.
Need-based aid at Oberlin works something like this: odds are, your family can't afford to pay out of pocket for the entirety of Oberlin. (Mine certainly can't, and most can't.) Because of this, with the help of the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the CSS Profile (the College Board's financial profile) Oberlin's Financial Aid Office figures out what your family is able to pay, and from there they make up the difference. For the most part, that will be through grants, or money you don't have to pay back. Other than grants, your financial aid package will probably include some loans, though Oberlin doesn't really want any student graduating with more than $20,000 in debt, so the Financial Aid office typically limits yearly loans to $5,000 or less. Work-study is also a common part of a need-based package, which basically guarantees that you can get a job on campus in order to put money directly towards your college costs if you want to.
Basically, Oberlin wants to make sure that any student admitted can afford to come here. Period.
Merit aid is in addition to need-based aid. In the College of Arts & Sciences, it's based on your academic record; my understanding is that merit aid is generally offered to the top 10% or so academically of the admitted class. In the Conservatory, it's based on your musical talent. Since we have Division III athletics, Finn isn't going to be getting a football scholarship to come here--he'd need to get his Spanish grades up to get an academic scholarship in the College or impress the Conservatory by hitting that high B. If he wanted to play football, he certainly still could--but he'd be doing it for the love of the sport, not because he had to in order to afford to attend.
Hopefully this will initiate a rush of questions which I'm happy to answer--after all, it was not so long ago that I was like Finn and convinced that the only way I could afford college was by schools offering me money because of my academic merit, and I've certainly learned through experience much more about how the system works.
Responses to this Entry
Thanks for your blog. It taught me a bit more about financial aid and stuff but I have a question. If a person comes from a very low income family could he/she get into college absolutely free of charge?
Posted by: Omar on January 13, 2010 11:50 AM
That's quite possible, Omar. When Oberlin estimates how much college will cost, they count in tuition, fees, living and eating costs, and estimates for books and travel. It's entirely possible to get a financial aid package that covers all of those things completely if your family has an extremely low income.
Additionally, if a student's family had low income, there is a program that Oberlin works closely with called the Bonner Foundation (http://bonnernetwork.pbworks.com/Bonner-Program). Among other things, it provides low-income students with the opportunity to attend college through service-based scholarships. I know several Bonner Scholars here (students in the program) who have found the program to be really supportive- the group of Bonner Scholars works closely together with one another and Oberlin's Bonner Center for Service and Learning (BCSL) to do community service and to support one another through the college experience.
Posted by: Brandi on January 13, 2010 12:35 PM
Financial aid seems so complicated. I already use sites like http://finaid.org/ and http://studentloansforcollege.org/ to get information that is not lender driven, and now I can add this site to my bookmarks, Thanks you did a really good job of clearing some stuff up for me!
Posted by: cole on March 12, 2010 3:42 PM
This is actually a pretty interesting way to look at the thing with Glee. I'm a big Glee fan, and I too remember wondering why Finn was so focused on getting a scholarship, and then it occurred to me that even though I know scholarships aren't the only way to pay for college, so many students don't realize that.
I think we'll post something about this, also, because media is so far-reaching that an episode like this has quite an impact. It's important for students to know that there are many ways to pay for college. A (merit based) scholarship is not the only way.
Posted by: Tia on September 5, 2010 12:01 AM
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