Early Decision, Financial Aid & Gaming College Admissions – Who Really Pays?

I have a story to tell—a story about how delusional the world can be. It all started with a headline I read on a LinkedIn article posted by a fellow educational consultant:


The headline screamed out at me—surely this was a rhetorical question. Then the colleague/educational consultant went on to write, “MY POSITION IS [Early Decision is] ONLY BINDING TO THE DEGREE THAT A SATISFACTORY FINANCIAL AWARD PACKCAGE IS AGREED UPON.”

My mind’s been reeling for weeks, and I’ve remembered something that happened not too long ago…

Here goes:

On the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, at noon, I received a call from a lovely Connecticut mom. The one whose all alone and whose “damn Mexican ex-husband isn’t paying a cent for Sophia to go to college.” And she wants to know if she has to mention this titan of Latin industry on the common app, the FAFSA, etc. etc. etc. I’m only helping with one essay because they “can’t afford to do more” with me due to that same “damn Mexican father.”

Well, I advise nervously, “you better make sure you explain on all of the forms that Sophia’s Dad has gone AWOL and that you can’t get a peso from him.” She agrees and rushes on to say, “Thank God she’s got that Mexican last name from him—at least.” (The mom’s not even close to being Mexican and Sophia’s never seen the inside of a church, let alone a confessional, but Sophia does speak Spanish—and French; She just got back from six weeks in Pyrenees.)

And then Mom gets even more excited. I can practically see her ringing her hands together. “We’ve had a really tough two years, financially,” she gleefully explains as we are getting off the phone. It’s now 1pm and she’s got to take Sophia to “get her nails done.” Of course, I’m wondering where my housekeeper is right about now because it’s midday on a workweek. I assume Virginia is cleaning someone’s toilet somewhere and I’m working at my office in Chelsea. Neither of us is getting our nails done right in the middle of this sunny afternoon. So, I just can’t help myself. I have to ask the Mom: “Did…you make…less than $30K last year? Silence “Less than “$60K?” I ask.

“No, she responds, deflated. “I know. That might be a problem when Sophia applies ED.” I’m not even sure Mom even has a job, or needs one. How did she send Sophia to the Pyrenees for six weeks and do they own or rent that house in Connecticut? ED Might be a problem?

So again, I nervously ask another question: “How much… did you… make last year? Roughly.”

“Well,” she says with a small chuckle, “a lot more than sixty thousand.” But I’m not LOL-ing as she explains that she recently read, and then confirmed with friends, that ED isn’t “always binding—at certainly not the financial aid offer part.

All I’m thinking about is what I paid Uncle Sam last year. And suddenly I’m reminded of another story I just hear about a woman who fell on a Royal Caribbean cruise. Maybe you heard it. It was a few years ago. She slipped near the soda machine and hurt her arm. That cost Royal Caribbean somewhere in the neighborhood of $225,000—just to shut her down.

I’m not saying she didn’t deserve the settlement. I wasn’t there. But I also heard the part about it being after midnight, near the Schooner Bar, after several Cosmos? BTW, the price of a Royal Caribbean vacation has doubled over the past few years. So have your taxes. That’s all I’m saying.

I get that the price of college is ridiculous. And I’m no saint; I smile and shut my mouth when the Metro North train conductor forgets to punch my ticket. But dontcha think some of us have to take responsibility for tuition inflation, all inflation? Or is it all the insurance companies’ fault when we drink, drive and crash?

IDK. Maybe it’s time we stood up and made our outrage over ED clear—do something about it instead of gaming a system that clearly helps those with money, those who have enough money (and the foreign names) to manipulate it and ignores those without.

But for now, the binding part? Yes, it damn well better be binding or I’ve got a huge number of students and families who are gonna be pissed off. Not only are they not getting the benefit of it, but they’re taxes are paying for the many who manipulate it. What’re we teaching our children—all of them?

Binding means binding, right? Just asking.

So—ED means: If the college accepts you and offers you enough financial aid, you must go to that college. That’s what “binding” means. And it should be. Why?

As an Independent Educational Consultant who helps hundreds of minority/low income students apply to college (http://essaybusters.org), I’d be pretty irate to find out that ED is a wink-and-a-nod kind of thing, just another system to be gamed by moms who think they should get special favors because their alimony is only in the six figures instead of the seven. The financial aid offer is the very reason we council our low-income students to apply Early Action (EA) where possible and Regular Decision (RD) when not. (Don’t get me started on EASC.)

Those taxes we pay every year shouldn’t go to support financial aid for people like this mom, but for those kids who actually have financial need. So that, in theory, we can help give the hardworking poor a chance to be educated for ALL OUR SAKES. SO ALL BOATS CAN RISE AND WE CAN FINALLY GET OUT OF THIS ECONOMIC MESS.

And so, is Early Decision only binding by those who agree upon it?

No. Early Decision is just binding–period. I’m just saying.

Evan Forster

Follow me on Twitter at @AuntieEvanSays

Visit Essay Busters at www.essaybusters.org


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