If colleges are truly need blind

do their financial aid offices create every single applicant’s financial aid packages?

The financial aid packages are created after the student is accepted.

FA offices likely do preliminary work on FA packages in parallel with admissions office work.

It is likely that much of the preliminary work is automated to handle relatively “ordinary” family finances and flag the non-“ordinary” for human review. But the human review can also occur in parallel to admissions work. Once the admissions office has determined who is admitted, the FA packages for those admitted are finalized (which may require adjustments for merit scholarships or preferential packaging).

Some applicants get questions for clarification from FA offices before the admission decisions are made. This does not give any indication of what the admission decision will be.

Some need-blind schools are more need-blind than others. Schools that offer ED have no choice but to work on both financial aid and admissions near simultaneously, because they don’t have the luxury of time to work on them sequentially for their ED applicants. There’s a “Chinese wall” between the admissions and financial aid offices, but not all such walls are always impermeable. After all, staff of the two offices aren’t physically segregated.

What, is there a nation-wide rule that admissions staff and FA staff have to share the same office, or be located in the same building? Interesting - I never knew that.

Umm, at both of my kids schools admissions and financial aid are in completely different buildings and at one, on different parts of the campus.

One is need blind, the other need aware.

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Some of the preliminary work is making sure financial aid applications are complete and that any supplemental information needed is received. This then makes the job of completing the financial aid package quicker.

Even IF the financial aid and admissions folks are in the same room, do you really think the admissions folks at need blind schools have time to yell over “hey can you tell me what the finances are for Susie?” They don’t.

At need aware schools, the financial aid department provides the level of financial need to admissions. Because level of need is considered at these schools at least for some applicants.

I used the term “physical segregation” only metaphorically. Whether the two offices are in the same building or not isn’t the point. Staff are colleagues and often friends. They socialize and they may even talk about their work in settings outside their offices. An analogy is with Wall Street trading. There’re strict laws governing those who trade for proprietary accounts and those who trade for clients or “making a market”, but information do sometimes leak from one to the other, perhaps because of an overheard conversation, or perhaps worse.

So I was both admissions and financial aid at a school that was not need-aware, as well as financial aid only and admissions only at schools that were not need-aware. Schools have to do prep work in advance of admissions decisions, as @thumper1 noted. One school where I worked prepped all financial aid applications in advance of admissions decisions, making it easy to quickly package aid according to packaging policies as soon as admissions decisions were made. At other schools, only those students who were admitted were prepped/packaged (I would say that this is typical for public university undergraduate financial aid). In all cases, admissions and financial aid were totally separate things … even when I did both.


Would these public universities be those with very simple FA formulae with no or few human-processed cases so that processing FA applications only after admission is done would not delay issuing the FA offers along with admission offers?

The number of FAFSAs that come to a large public university is staggering. It would be a huge waste of resources to begin to process those that do not actually need to be processed. Where I worked, and at similar state universities I am familiar with, students are accepted on a rolling basis beginning in fall. Aid is often not packaged until months later. This is due to many factors, including the need to take care of current students’ aid in fall.

Here’s how it went for us this year (ED1, a very selective LAC in the West): they delivered on their promise to post both admission and FA decisions at the same time, for those who submitted complete FA docs on time. But a day or two before the announcement, they sent their own FA form, asking to confirm/update information, and we were required to submit it so see FA numbers. So it looked like the “draft” was done before the admission decision while the “final” was done in the last 1-2 days. But I don’t think this model could be easily replicated in schools admitting a large number of ED candidates, instead of ~200.
We had an impression of a tight firewall between their AO and FA.

At these universities, was the FA calculation more complex than what can be done by a computer program that takes in FAFSA data and spits out an FA package (i.e. needing human reading a significant percentage of the time)?

The NPC is a relatively simple calculator. If this, then that. In reality, there are questions to be answered: Was the aid deadline met? Is the FAFSA selected for verification? Is there other aid to factor in? Does the student have advanced standing that must be considered when packaging? Are there flags associated with the FAFSA that must be resolved (loan limits, citizenship, selective service registration, etc)? These and other questions must be asked and answered prior to packaging aid. To attempt to do this for students who will not be accepted (or who will never even apply) to the school is not time well spent. Anything started has to be managed through to an end … so all of those begun must be stewarded.

I’d like to know why schools that state they are need blind need the CSS right away.

Worst offender (in my mind) is Stanford. They only take like 5% of applicants (and charge a lot of them $90 for applying) and require they spend another $16-$25 to send the CSS; 95% of the CSS’ they get won’t be needed.

Stanford turns down over 40,000 students a year - ignoring waivers and assuming all of the students are applying to other schools that require CSS (so all are paying 16 not 25) that’s $16*40K= $640,000/year going to college board.

Seems like Stanford could either cut the kids that have no chance first & then ask for the CSS or develop their own Fin Aid system for prospective/current students. Development costs money but they could charge well under $16-25 a head and make it back and sophomores+ could use the system for free.

But all the money going to College Board (and I really resent all the money I pay to college board) doesn’t come from Stanford - so I guess they don’t care as long as they have all the paperwork in long before they will need it.

Doing most of the FA work in parallel to admissions work, rather than waiting until after admissions is done, means that there is less of a time crunch.

The likely process is that FA applications are fed into a computer program that makes preliminary FA packages based on college FA policy and flags unusual situations for human review. These unusual situations may take some time to figure out, so doing that in parallel to admissions work means that if admissions is done on 3/31, the decisions with FA packages are ready to be delivered on 4/1.

Of course, the cost of CSS Profile is a separate issue / complaint (but the above time framing also applies to colleges that do not use CSS Profile).

Not all colleges does this. FA applicants to Caltech don’t have to submit CSS until they’ve been accepted.

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Once again, CalTech provides leadership in how things should be done.

I hope that other schools will move to this model (submit CSS AFTER acceptance) because it is just another access issue, a barrier for low income applicants.


Well…University of Chicago seems to be doing just fine with just the FAFSA and a very short form of their own. No Profile.

And Princeton also is doing just fine…using the FAFSA and their own Princeton financial aid form.

Every college could ditch the Profile…really.


I support that strategy too! The revenues that CB receives for CSS Profile from kids who aren’t accepted makes me crazy.