Financial aid matters. It matters to nearly every college student and every parent of a college student in the U.S. Especially at Boston University
Very few people can afford a college education on their own, let alone the price of an education from BU. The cost of tuition, including student fees, is close to $43,000. When combined with the average cost of room and board, books and the university’s estimated cost of personal expenses, that number is just over $59,000.
These numbers are nothing new. For people involved in the financing of an education at BU, they are almost always lingering somewhere in their mind. In regards to this fact, the university devotes close to 10% of its budget CQ to financial aid for students, according to Colin Riley CQ, the university’s executive director of media relations.
“We are a very generous school when it comes to financial assistance. We know that, students tell us that,” he said.
Considering the cost of an education at BU, it’s important to understand how the university allocates its funds to help students handle that cost.
There are several kinds of financial aid available to students. These include need-based and merit-based grants, most of which are funded by the university; federal and private loans funded either federally or privately; and work-study programs, which are also funded federally. This discussion will be focused on university-funded aid.
An important thing to keep in mind about financial aid is the difference between need-based aid and merit-based aid. The majority of grants students receive are need-based.
Merit awards are more specific than need-based aid and only a few are offered through the university. Examples are the Trustee Scholarship, Presidential Scholarship and just about any other public or private scholarship. They are awarded for a variety of reasons, but are nearly always heavily influenced by academic achievement and extracurricular accomplishment.
Need-based aid is the kind most people think of when they hear the words financial aid. It comes in the form of a grant from the university. These grants are awarded based on a students need for financial assistance as calculated according to a number of factors
One of the most important of these factors is the Expected Family Contribution, which BU’s financial aid website describes best: “The expected contribution is not a judgment about how much a family should be able to pay from current income—it’s an estimate of their capacity to absorb the costs of education over time,” it says.
The website breaks down the EFC further, explaining that it consists of
- A parental contribution based on income and assets
- 25% of student savings and other assets
- A minimum contribution from student earnings (from a summer job or otherwise)
Grants awarded to students for need-based aid can be no more than the cost of tuition minus their EFC, according to federal regulations.
Also on the website is a chart designed to help students estimate about how much aid they are likely to receive based on their family income and academic achievement.
However, Riley warns that this chart is far from all encompassing. Its purpose is to help students and families know roughly what to expect. The chart uses the amount of aid awarded to freshman, so it changes from year to year.
It is worth noting that the chart does not account for students extracurricular involvement, which reflects the fact that the decision to award need-based grants is not the same as the decision to admit a student to the university.
“People admitting you are looking at you in a holistic way,” Riley said. “The people who are determining you financial assistance are finding out what your financial circumstances are.”
Another important part of how the university handles financial aid is the appeal process. Appealing an aid decision does not guarantee the amount awarded will change. Appeals are only granted when students’ financial situations change, or when new information about their financial situation is revealed.
Consider two cases of students who appealed their financial aid: one in which the decision stayed the same, and one in which it was changed.
Janel Mayo CQ, a sophomore at Hofstra University, was accepted to BU early decision. When she got the news that the university awarded her nothing in ways of financial aid, she had no other choice than to accept the offer and try to appeal it.
After Mayo’s first appeal was denied, she worked hard until she could appeal a second time at the end of the semester. Unfortunately, with no change in her family’s financial situation, the university did not change its decision.
“At that point I couldn’t stay,” said Mayo. “There was no way I could stay at BU. It’s just too expensive.”
However, for Zefa Sullivan CQ, CAS `13, things went differently. About three quarters of Sullivan’s tuition was being paid for by financial aid until last year when her family’s finances changed.
“The numbers changed, but the [financial] situation didn’t really,” she said.
As a result, her financial aid award was reduced to about a third of what it was, leaving Sullivan and her family unable to afford the cost of the university. She appealed the decision, asking for only a small proportion of her aid back, and instead was awarded almost all of it back.
These two stories reflect the basic principle behind the appeal process. When examining a student’s appeal, the university only looks for new or different information that changes the student’s financial situation. Although Mayo excelled in her first semester at BU, because her finances were the same, the university did not alter its decision.
Because of its importance in nearly every student’s life, financial aid will likely always be a soar subject. Few people are totally satisfied with the amount of aid they receive simply because having to pay any money is worse than having to pay less money. That being said, without the financial contributions of students and their families, the school could not be what it is today.
“Boston University is in the business of higher education,” said Riley. “It works very hard at providing students with the best possible education including the best faculty.”
Like any business, BU is constantly being forced to make hard decisions, many of which are related to financial aid, meaning that the words financial aid will likely always carry with them stories of tragedy and success alike.