I’m aware that applying for financial aid to a need-sensitive institution will hurt my chances to a certain extent. But how much does it hurt? For instance, is there an approximate SAT point deduction equivalency or something like that? There was one for race, apparently being Asian is equal to -40 SAT points.
Don’t worry about factors / decisions beyond your control. There are so many factors that go into admissions decisions, that make it virtually impossible to tell why one candidate is accepted when another “similar” candidate is denied.
One college admissions officer answered this question at an info session, as follows: While it may be true that a first gen, Pacific Islander who grew up in the Dakotas, with a GPA and test scores equal to the 50th percentile at a given competitive college may have a slight advantage over other applicants, if she writes a terrible essay, has no meaningful/interesting EC activities, and gets tepid rec letters, she won’t get accepted. In other words, keep your energy focused on your own application, and don’t worry about your future classmates yet.
If they really like you, your financial need won’t hurt you at all and they will come up with the money that they think you need…
If they pretty much like you, and they determine that you don’t need any aid (or that you don’t need a lot of aid), it won’t hurt you at all.
If they pretty much like you, and you need a lot of aid, and they like one or two people as much as they like you but those people don’t need as much aid, well then your need will hurt you.
So, go ahead and apply for the aid. If you don’t get in because they decide they can’t afford you, it also means that they don’t want you that much anyway. Follow the money, and the love, somewhere else.