While families do not usually know the details of how financial aid is disbursed, colleges have access to comprehensive, detailed information about applicants in what amounts to “a massive information imbalance”.
Most colleges offer “vague and superficial” disclosures about how they allocate their financial-aid dollars, said Mark Kantrowitz, a financial-aid expert with Edvisors, which publishes websites about paying for college. “They don’t give details about the actual formulas they use.”
Schools use “financial aid leveraging” to attract stronger students.
While universities don’t want to disclose the details, they have become increasingly strategic in recent years about how they use their aid and which students get it. Aid isn’t just given to students in need, it’s also used now for what schools call “financial aid leveraging” — often to entice high-scoring students who will help a school’s ranking or to give a small, feel-good discount to attract out-of-state students who will still end up paying a higher price.
Boston University is unusually candid about its strategy of using need-based financial aid to attract stronger applicants.
If you are an incoming student, your application for a need-based BU grant award will be considered based on several factors. These include calculated financial eligibility, academic achievement, and the availability of funds for your program of study.
BU publishes informative student profiles showing average aid awards. I ran some simplified* Net Price Calculations that further illustrate how their financial aid works. Given the same financial need, the stronger student is would receive more need-based financial aid.
The Straight-A Student is estimated to receive $35,500 in grants and scholarships, compared to only $12,00 for the Solid B Student. Remember, this is need-based financial aid. Merit scholarships may be awarded in addition to these amounts.
* In these examples, total earned income was $80,000/year.