May 18, 2020
Question: If you apply Early Decision without knowledge of any merit scholarships which are necessary for enrollment, what happens if you get in ED but with no money? School of choice is Vanderbilt.
If you are admitted to an Early Decision college without adequate financial aid, you can withdraw from your ED commitment without penalty. And when it comes to defining “adequate,” there is a lot of gray area. Most institutions operate on the honor system (that is, they respect your contention that your aid won’t suffice and they won’t make you haul out reams of paperwork to prove it). But the admission folks probably won’t be happy either. In other words, if the college meets your demonstrated financial need, then you should be able to matriculate … at least in theory. Yet sometimes an Expected Family Contribution can seem unrealistically high to those who actually have to pay it. Sometimes, too, the college will meet your need with a combination of grants and loans, and big loans might scare you off.
In your case, it sounds like you may not have applied for financial aid at all and are counting on merit money to make Vanderbilt affordable. But Vandy clearly states on their Web site:
If you do choose to apply to Vanderbilt under the Early Decision I or II deadline, however, be aware that merit scholarship recipients are not notified of their selection until late March of their senior year. If you are admitted under the Early Decision I or II decision plan, you will have to commit to attend Vanderbilt without knowing if you will be offered a merit scholarship. You will receive a tentative need-based financial aid award if you complete the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE application for financial aid online and submit it simultaneously with your Early Decision application for admission, but you will not receive notification of merit scholarship awards prior to either of the Early Decision deadlines to commit to Vanderbilt.
So you may want to ask Vanderbilt to move you into the Regular Decision pool if you know for sure you cannot attend without merit aid.
But, if you have applied for need-based aid, then you will get a tentative aid package at the time of your ED verdict (if admitted, of course). When a student declines an ED offer for financial reasons, colleges have varying policies that govern what comes next. At some schools, the application will be tossed back in the Regular Decision pool, and the student may or may not be re-accepted in the spring. (And, if accepted, the aid package may or may not be better than the ED version.)
At many colleges, however, once a student says no (or, hopefully, “No thanks”) to an Early Decision offer, then it’s Game Over. The application will be taken out of contention, and the student will not be considered for RD admission.
Whenever an ED offer of acceptance comes without sufficient funds, the first step should be to appeal the aid award. Provide as much documentation as possible to show why you require additional dough. If the appeal is not successful, you should check with admission staff to find out if you’re still in the running for reconsideration in the spring, should you want it.
But, unless the merit award decisions are made in December, no student should count on merit aid when applying Early Decision.