Here’s how need-aware works at Reed.
Applicants are thoroughly screened by the admission staff, which assigns each a score ranging from 1 (exceptional) to 5 (poor), based on set criteria including high school grades and extracurricular activities. Other factors such as diversity, alumni legacy status, and a subjective category labeled “potential,” all weigh in to varying degrees. The majority of students are judged strictly on their qualifications, with admitted students offered individualized aid packages after the financial aid office crunches the numbers in the family’s FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Most students on aid at Reed are not impoverished; half report family incomes above $50,000.
Reed budgets for about 140 freshmen—40 percent of the incoming class—to receive aid.
The percentage rises over the course of four years because students are allowed to re-apply for aid if family finances change, and students on aid tend to stick around and graduate at higher rates than their full-paying classmates. Overall, approximately 53 percent of students on campus are receiving some form of aid.
The ability of applicants to pay is not considered at Reed until the college’s financial aid budget is tapped out under a formula that predicts how many admitted students will enroll. By then, all the very best candidates have been offered admission and aid. For those who are left, Reed also considers their ability to pay. The number affected varies from year
to year, but is typically fewer than 100 (out of an applicant pool of more than 3,000). In one recent year, 23 of 78 applicants in the need-aware group had applied for aid and were thus denied admission. Analysis has shown that the difference between those who get in and those who don’t under the need-aware policy is slight—about three-tenths of a point in high school GPA in a sample applicant pool.
For those who make the cut and need financial aid, Reed works to tailor the package to an individual family’s situation—within limits, according to Director of Financial Aid Leslie Limper.
“I recently talked to a parent who sold a beach house to pay for educational expenses,” Limper says. “We see many parents who are really willing to make sacrifices for what’s best for their children.”
Still, she says, every year there are some families that just can’t make the numbers work. After Reed puts together a package of grants, loans, and work-study based on what the federal formula says the family can afford to contribute, it’s still not enough. “I hate to say no,” Limper says, “but at some point you sometimes have to say, ‘It isn’t going to work out.’ There are always some extremely disappointed families.”