Amidst the excitement of an acceptance letter from Penn, Shahriar Shams-Ansari was disappointed to find that he had received far less financial aid than the University’s new net-price calculator had estimated.
In fact, he received no financial aid, $5,000 off from the initial prediction.
Shams-Ansari, who applied regular decision from Sir Winston Churchill High School in Calgary, Canada, said this difference was magnified in light of his other acceptances at Canadian universities, which cost on average less than American institutions.
“It made it a bit harder to decide on Penn,” he said. “I think for me it was just the fact that Canadian schools are comparable [to many American universities] but they literally cost half as much.”
However, he said his parents, all along the application process, treated the net-price calculator estimate as a ballpark price and were not taken aback by the difference.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said the Office of Admissions has not been informed of any significant discrepancies between net-price calculator estimates and actual aid packages. In order to comply with federal guidelines, Penn released its version of the calculator in October as a tool to give students an idea of their overall price for a Penn education.
Furda said Penn has made an effort to emphasize that the number provided by the calculator is no more than a rough estimate.
“I think Penn’s net-price calculator and the language around it probably goes overboard in making the point that this is an estimate,” he said.
Furda likened the difference between the net-price calculator and the final financial aid package to the difference between the probability of acceptance based on test scores and GPA and the final admissions decision.
“Students with higher test scores and higher GPAs are going to have a higher probability [of being admitted], but that’s not always the decision made on the application,” he said.
Jeffrey Durso-Finley — director of college counseling at The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, N.J. — said he doesn’t predict too much deviation at Penn, which awards financial aid packages based purely on need, and not on merit scholarships.
“At a school like Penn, because of how simple the financial aid policy is at the institution, they should be similar,” he said.
Top Colleges Educational Consultant Steven Goodman, a 1989 Graduate School of Education alumnus, agreed. He added that students who are “highly sensitive to financial aid packages” will be more concerned about the comparison of financial aid packages between different schools.
“At the end of the day, for these students, the issue is going to be what the final numbers are, especially after the appeal letters because a lot of these students will apply for appeal if there is a large difference,” he said.
In the end, Shams-Ansari chose to commit to Penn for the upcoming school year because he felt that the fit between him and the school outweighed the disappointment of the financial aid package.
In particular, he pointed to the various outreach efforts such as emails from his alumni interviewer and current students as factors that tipped the scale toward Penn.
Shams-Ansari spoke with a Canadian student who is majoring in the sciences about the process of applying for student visas, as well as research opportunities available at Penn.
“I guess it’s just the fact that Penn seems to care more about the students,” he said. “You feel the school is more invested in you as a student.”
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