Parents Exploiting Financial Aid Offers

College Tuition, Financial Aid, Financial Aid Awards
A piece up on CNBC details the lengths some parents will go to avoid paying the costs of college (photo credit: Andrew Chen).

We are experts in highly selective college admissions. We are not experts in financial aid. Do we know more than most about financial aid? Of course. But we don’t hold ourselves out to be experts namely because our students at Ivy Coach do not apply for financial aid. And why? Well, as we tell them before they enlist our services, if they can pay the fees of our concierge service, they shouldn’t qualify for financial aid. But it doesn’t stop some parents, even those who’ve already enlisted our services, from asking, “If we check that we need financial aid, will it hurt my child’s case for admission?” Yes, yes it will. They typically then reply, “But the college says it’s need-blind. You’re saying they’re not telling the truth?” We typically let them chew on their own thoughts for a beat. They then answer their own question: “They’re not telling the truth.” That’s right. If colleges were truly need-blind, then why oh why on the vast majority of college supplements do they ask if an applicant needs aid? Why wouldn’t this be on a separate document that admissions officers can’t see with their own two eyes?

So when we came across the report by ProPublica Illinois that affluent parents — doctors, lawyers, real estate brokers, etc. — in the Chicago suburbs of Lake County were exploiting legal loopholes by finding alternative legal guardians for their children so they could qualify for financial aid from colleges, well, we weren’t in the least surprised. As Annie Nova reports in a piece for CNBC entitled “Parents exploit this legal loophole to get their kids more need-based college financial aid,” “Dozens of parents in Chicago have transferred legal guardianship of their high school-aged children to someone else — often, a friend or relative— so that their children can declare themselves financially independent from them, likely enhancing their eligibility for federal, state and university aid. ProPublica Illinois first reported the news. ‘At best, this is unethical,’ said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of SavingForCollege.com. ‘At worst, these cases may involve fraud and perjury.'”

But Nova has labeled this exploitation of a legal loophole a trend, which implies parents haven’t been transferring guardianship like this for years and years. We have a feeling, of course, that it’s not some new trend. We suspect parents in suburbs and cities across America have been exploiting this legal loophole for a long time. It’s not right. It’s unethical. But at least our readers know that these unethical parents are not exactly helping their children improve their cases for admission to America’s highly selective colleges. And why? Because these students would in most cases have greater odds of admission to America’s highly selective colleges if they didn’t declare a need for financial aid. So, in that sense, they are doing their children no favor — though they may very well be successfully avoiding the costs of college tuition.

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