Admissions officers and college consultants are looking to determine whether the recent implementation of a net-price financial aid calculator at Penn will have a tangible impact on application numbers.
As part of an effort to remain in compliance with the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, the University released its own version of the calculator in late October.
According to Director of Student Financial Aid Bill Schilling, the calculator is designed to provide a “ballpark estimate” of the overall sticker price for a Penn education.
At this point in time, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said it is too soon to tell how the calculator may affect the University’s application numbers.
Because the calculator’s launch date in October came right before Penn’s application deadlines, the calculator will be “utilized as a planning tool to a much greater degree starting now than it was in its launch,” he said.
In the long term, Furda believes the calculator may increase the number of low-income students in Penn’s applicant pool.
“The greatest hope for the calculator is for families who would discount the opportunity to apply to a place like Penn,” he said, adding that students and families may be more inclined to visit the University and apply if the calculator’s aid estimate is more than they expected.
However, he added that the calculator may also discourage some students from submitting an application if their estimated total cost is higher than predicted.
Schilling agreed, adding that in some cases, this lower-than-expected aid estimate could be misleading and might turn certain students away from Penn.
“I worry that there could be families who use it, see a number that they can’t handle, when in fact, we might be able to take [unusual circumstances] into account that the calculator doesn’t,” he said.
Schilling is worried that the calculator may only be useful to families that are already “savvy” about the financial aid process, as opposed to first-generation applicants who have little experience in paying for a college education.
Schilling, who participated in a panel discussion on economic diversity at Penn in November, said while outreach efforts to first-generation students are mostly left to the Admissions Office, he hopes that “as high-school guidance counselors become more familiar with the calculator, they will be helping to guide [the students and their families] through the process.”
Top Colleges educational consultant Steven Goodman — who received his master’s degreee from the Graduate School of Education in 1989 — agreed with Furda that the net effect of the calculator will be hard to predict.
“I think this is going to sort out whether or not people are interested in prestige … or money,” he said. “And I think the calculator is going to force that issue even more pointedly.”
Paul Boyer, director of financial aid at Williams College — which, in 2003, became one of the first schools in the country to launch a net-price calculator — does not believe that the calculator’s results can impact an institution’s application numbers.
“To the best of my knowledge, our net price calculator … has not directly influenced the number of students applying to Williams,” he wrote in an email.
Boyer added that the net-price calculator has not affected the demographics of Williams’ aid applicants.
“Our number of aid applicants is up across all income levels,” he wrote. “We expect it has more to do with the slump in the economy than the availability of our financial aid calculator.”
Eliana Yankelev — who was admitted through early decision from Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa. — said that while she received an aid estimate before applying to Penn, her total predicted cost did not influence her decision to apply.
“I don’t think that the estimate was a big thing for me to choose Penn [over other Ivy League schools] because they all give you about the same amount [of aid], give or take a certain amount,” she said.
However, Gloria Kwon — who was admitted through early decision from Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, Wash. — said that the calculator marks a vast improvement over the previous alternative of a standard family income chart, which she used when applying.
The income chart “was really deceiving because when [my parents] saw the actual aid package, it was $30,000 less than the estimate,” she said. “If we had used the calculator, we wouldn’t have been nearly as shocked when we saw the price.”
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