The Case for Financial Aid Research

Alia Georges

When something’s price seems too good to be true, it usually is. In my old neighborhood I lived near a Metro PCS store. Every time I walked past that store, I’d see a sign out front that said: “2 FREE PHONES.” Although I was living on a tight budget at the time and the prospect of getting a new phone was tempting, I knew when I saw that sign that there was no way those phones were truly free (basically, they give you the phones themselves for free, but only if you sign up for an expensive contract that makes up for the price of the phones over time).

Although I’ve made plenty of financial mistakes in my life, I knew better than to fall for that scam thanks to my grandfather. He was very skeptical of deals and advertisements, and he taught me to be an informed consumer. One of his favorite sayings was, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” (which, as it turns out, originated from a scam not unlike the “2 FREE PHONES” one). Culturally, my grandfather’s behaviors made a lot of sense. He grew up in the Great Depression, and he came from an unstable family where he was always the most responsible person (financially and otherwise). Although I wish that his life circumstances had been different and allowed him to be more trusting of others, I appreciate the financial wariness he instilled in me. I do my research, ask questions, look for hidden fees, and read the fine print (well, not going to lie: sometimes I don’t always do that with those long user agreements…).

Now that I work in Olin’s Financial Aid Office, however, I see a different (but ultimately related) problem: Many people aren’t careless about college costs. In fact, they’re often overly cautious. They see a college’s high cost of attendance (Olin’s cost of attendance for a first-year student, for example, is currently valued at $75,939), and they shut down. They get sticker shock. I’ve literally had people hang up the phone on me after hearing that number.

I can’t guarantee that every college will ultimately be affordable for every student. College affordability depends on each family’s personal circumstances and each college’s financial aid policies and resources. But I can say with confidence that when we succumb to sticker shock, we sometimes unintentionally close the door on college options that could be affordable. So just like when you’re offered something that seems too good to be true, I urge you to take the time to do your research and understand what you’re really paying and what you’re really getting in return. When it comes to college, it may be better than you think.

Because if you hear our cost of attendance and hang up the phone, you wouldn’t learn that literally no Olin student actually pays that amount. That we are a school that provides a half-tuition scholarship to all students and meets 100% of demonstrated financial need for students who are eligible to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). That we are committed to making our education as affordable and accessible as possible. That we are not just a school for people who happen to have $75K lying around.

Developing this deeper understanding often lies in the questions we ask about college costs. While many people simply ask, “How much is tuition?” or “How much does this college cost?”, I’d encourage you to take a look at Olin student Jerry’s excellent list of recommended financial aid questions. In my next blog post, I’ll be sharing answers to Jerry’s questions when it comes to Olin’s financial aid specifically! You can also check out my blog post where I answer Jerry's questions for Olin specifically!

Posted in: Alia, All Admission Staff Blogs