Nov. 25, 2020
I applied Early Decision (ED) to Johns Hopkins and my twin sister applied ED to Duke. Our parents are getting nervous as the notification dates approach because of the cost. We have told them repeatedly that if the financial aid package doesn't meet our needs we can get out of the ED agreement, but they're stressed. Can you advise how hard it is to get out of an ED agreement for financial reasons? Would we need to prove the reasons why the financial package isn't good enough? How does this work, and do colleges ever refuse to let people out of the agreement for financial reasons?
Life can be tough when parents are stressed! But in this case, you can tell yours to calm down. It's easy-peasy to get out of an Early Decision commitment if the money isn't sufficient ... and it's you (and your parents) who get to define what "sufficient" means. All you have to do is to say "This isn't right for us," and that's it. You don't have to prove that the numbers won't work. Hopefully, however, you or your parents have already played around with the online "Net Price Calculators" for Duke and Johns Hopkins and have received encouraging results. While the NPC figures can rarely be viewed as gospel truth, they should at least provide a sense of how realistic your Expected Family Contributions will be.
What you should do first, however, if the aid from either JHU or Duke (or both) is inadequate, is to appeal the offer. In your case, in particular, the financial aid that you (or your sister) initially receive may not be assessed on the basis of a sibling attending a comparably pricey school. So your parents may have to start by explaining the specific costs they'll be facing with twins enrolling at the same time. And if you both get accepted by your respective ED colleges, but one aid package is decent while the other isn't, you can try using the good package as leverage by showing financial aid officers at the "bad" college what the other is providing. Admission officials expect to count admitted ED applicants as "sure things" and don't like to lose them due to inadequate aid. So unless a financial aid package is way out of whack from what your parents feel is affordable, there's a solid chance that an appeal will put you in the ballpark.
But if either you or your twin does have to turn down an ED acceptance for financial reasons, be sure to clarify the next steps with admission officials. Some colleges will put you back in the Regular Decision pool if you wish to stay in contention. This doesn't guarantee that you'll be accepted again in the RD round, and you probably won't get any more money than you were offered in December (and possibly could get less) but it does give you another shot, if you want to wait to see what your other choices will be in the spring before walking away. Most colleges, however, will not keep you in the RD pool once you've said no to an ED bid.
So just make sure that these terms are clear, don't worry about being forced to enroll if the aid is insufficient or even about having to offer proof of why you're bailing. Best wishes on all of the decisions ahead!
Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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