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How applying early for college affects financial aid

This article is from U.S. News and World Report

October 3, 2018

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Early decision applicants may enjoy improved odds of being accepted at their dream school, but that could come at the price of receiving less in college aid, experts say.

According to a 2017 report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, schools offering early decision accepted nearly 60 percent of early decision applicants in fall 2016. Among schools with early decision policies, the average overall admissions rate was almost 48 percent in fall 2016 – that's more than a 10 percentage point difference compared with early decision admissions.

The study also found that nearly half of selective schools – 49 percent – offered early decision; many of these institutions are private colleges.

Under early decision, students commit to a first-choice college and, if admitted, agree to enroll and withdraw their other college applications. That may mean the student accepts the school's financial aid award, even if a better offer might have materialized from another college or university.

"When you apply early decision, you agree to attend that college if accepted and to withdraw any applications you have submitted to other schools. If a college finds out you broke your early decision contract and did not withdraw applications to other schools, they can rescind your offer of admission," says Shannon Vasconcelos, director of college finance at Bright Horizons Education and College Advising, which offers college admissions consulting.

For students and parents who are considering an early decision application, here's what you need to know about how that decision affects college financial aid.

Students may opt out if they can't afford to attend. In general, early decision is binding and a student is required to accept the offer of admission. But there is one exception – if the aid award offered by a school isn't enough to make the cost affordable. This isn't common. Among admitted early decision students, nearly 87 percent accepted their early decision offer during the fall 2016 admissions cycle, according to the NACAC report.

Vasconcelos says less generous offers for early decision applicants is not a concern at the highly selective colleges that tend to offer no merit aid and guarantee that they will meet 100 percent of full financial need for the cost of attendance.

But families who are from high-cost areas sometimes aren't able to afford a certain college based on their calculated estimated family contribution, college admissions experts say.

"If your financial aid package isn't enough, you can ask to be released from the agreement. But this is effectively turning down admission and any offer of financial aid that comes with it. If you choose not to enroll, you will most likely have missed the application deadlines at your remaining school choices," says Abril Hunt, an outreach manager at Educational Credit Management Corporation, a nonprofit focused on helping families pay for college. "As soon as you think you might need a backup plan, start applying to other schools."

Hunt says aid awards will typically only be adjusted if a special circumstance has occurred on a student's Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA; the federal form is used to determine student aid eligibility for federal student loans and grants, but many colleges and universities as well as states use it to award students grant money.

It may limit the ability to negotiate financial aid awards. Students accepted under early decision lose the ability to compare aid packages across multiple schools.

"The primary financial drawback of applying early decision is that you give up the ability to compare offers from other schools and potentially negotiate awards to get those offers even higher," Vasconcelos says.

Experts say low-income students who can count on substantial need-based aid are also unable to see how the school compares in meeting demonstrated need.

"Students may be going in blind as to what their price is likely to be if they get in. That said, many colleges are not transparent about their need-based aid or merit scholarships – and so while the official FAFSA is helpful to have, it still leaves many questions open and could be risky for families if the offer comes back and is unaffordable," says Nick Ducoff, founder and CEO of Edmit, which helps students and parents navigate the college financial aid process.

Charlie Javice, founder an CEO of Frank, an online platform created to streamline the FAFSA process, says not having multiple financial aid offers also reduces a family's negotiation power.

"It makes it harder to say: 'I got into NYU and Columbia is giving me this award, and Columbia can you work with me because NYU is giving me that amount,'" Javice says. But, she says, if a student applies early, typically there's a larger pool of institutional money that hasn't been allocated yet.

Applying early may limit merit aid. College admissions experts say families banking on merit aid to float tuition should approach early decision gingerly. But, they say, it's not impossible to be awarded merit aid as an early decision applicant.

"Most schools use merit aid to attract their ideal students. If a school knows you will attend regardless, there is really no reason to offer you merit aid. Additionally, institutional and private scholarships aren't generally awarded until late spring or early summer. It's not impossible to get merit aid, but if you need to compare financial aid awards between schools, early decision is not the best option," Hunt says.

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ECMC offers tips to navigate the path to paying for college just in time for FAFSA filing season

September 20, 2018

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With college planning season upon us and billions in federal financial aid available for students, Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is offering free resources and helpful tips to help them navigate the process. ECMC sponsors financial literacy programs and works with student loan borrowers to help them successfully repay their loans.

"Selecting a college is one of the largest financial commitments a person will make in their lifetime," said Paula Craw, vice president of student success and outreach at ECMC. "ECMC is working to ensure students and families have access to the greatest amount of federal aid possible by easing the burden of understanding the complex application process."

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens Oct. 1 for the 2019-2020 school year. The FAFSA serves as the gateway to all federal financial aid including grants, loans and work-study.

ECMC developed the following timeline to help students and families with the FAFSA filing process to ensure they have the best opportunity to secure federal financial aid: (information is also available in the form of an infographic).

Before you file the FAFSA:

  • Create an FSA ID. At least one parent and the student are required to create an FSA ID (if the student is dependent).
  • Not sure whether you should file as a dependent or independent? Determine your status.
  • If you are a dependent student, you will need at least one parent's financial information (tax records, W2 forms, bank statements) to file the FAFSA.
  • Include a list of your top school choices and their federal school codes. This will allow the FAFSA to send your results directly to your preferred institutions.
  • Make sure you file your FAFSA in time to meet each of your desired schools' financial aid deadlines and their priority filing dates.
  • Pay attention to your state's deadlines. Many states with limited amounts of funds are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so the earlier you file your FAFSA, the better.

Filling out the FAFSA:

  • Set aside about 30 minutes to complete the form. File online or via the new mobile app.
  • Remember to print a copy of your completed FAFSA for your records.
  • Early filers may have access to more aid so don't wait.

After you file:

  • Expect to receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) about a week after you file your FAFSA. The SAR summarizes the information you provided on the FAFSA and provides your estimated eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant.
  • Also, expect to receive an award letter from the schools where you have been accepted.
  • Compare the financial aid packages and the overall fit and choose a school!

In addition to the tips, ECMC offers a free downloadable workbook that features a variety of worksheets and information to help students throughout the college planning process. Opportunities books are available in English and Spanish.

For more information, visit

View the pdf.

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ECMC Group employees to assemble hundreds of back-to-school kits for twin cities kids in need resource center

The following story and video are from KSTP-TV

August 29, 2018

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On Monday, August 27, Minneapolis-based ECMC Group employees will be creating individual back-to-school kits for more than 300 kids in the Twin Cities area.

The following video recaps the event.

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The College Place Oregon to host virtual financial aid event

August 27, 2018

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High schools across Oregon are invited to participate in a free online presentation about planning and paying for college. The virtual event is hosted by Educational Credit Management Corporation's (ECMC's) The College Place (TCP) Oregon, in partnership with the Oregon Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (OASFAA) and Oregon GEAR UP. TCP Oregon is one of several college access centers ECMC operates around the country.

"Applying and paying for college can be a daunting process for students and families," said Jennifer Satalino, director of ECMC's TCP Oregon. "We want to make sure schools throughout Oregon, particularly those in rural areas, have access to the support they need so students and families are educated and understand the various elements of the financial aid application process."

The Sept. 12 presentation will focus on preparing students for the financial aspects of college, including outlining college costs, understanding the different types of financial aid and navigating financial aid applications and timelines. Additional resources will also be provided to students should they need help when completing their own materials.

"OASFAA is thrilled to partner with GEAR UP and ECMC to provide new and exciting virtual financial aid resources to our rural communities who do not have access to all the same resources as students from metropolitan areas," said Molly Walsh, co-chair, high school counselor training committee at OASFAA. "The goal of OASFAA has always been to provide the best financial aid resources possible to the widest range of Oregonians. By harnessing the resources of all three groups (OASFAA, GEAR UP and ECMC), we are finally able to reach new audiences with our financial aid information. We want all Oregon students to be able to receive accurate, approachable information about applying for financial aid and paying for college."

High schools can sign up to participate in the event by visiting this link. Schools that register will also have the option to order free copies of ECMC's Oregon Opportunities books in English and Spanish. The books provide high school students with information on choosing the right college, understanding admission requirements, applying for and understanding the types of financial aid, and more. Books may also be ordered here:

"We're excited to be partnering with ECMC's TCP Oregon to host this special financial aid night," said Stephanie Carnahan, Oregon GEAR UP director. "This virtual event will allow schools, especially those in rural Oregon, to have access to volunteers from OASFAA."

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ECMC awards $486,000 in college scholarships to 81 students in Connecticut

August 15, 2018

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Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is proud to recognize 81 high school graduates from the class of 2018 who completed the ECMC Scholars Program. The students attended one of eight high schools in Connecticut and earned up to $6,000 each in scholarships.

For the past two years, these students have participated in the rigorous two-year mentoring program designed to help them build social and study skills. Unlike a traditional academic scholarship, these students were selected to participate in the program based on their potential...not solely on their academic merit or test scores. Working in partnership with their school and the ECMC Scholars team, they've spent their junior and senior years actively preparing for college.

"ECMC created the Scholars Program to provide a pathway to postsecondary education for students who are motivated to continue their education beyond high school," said Paula Craw, ECMC vice president of student success and outreach. "By providing them with wraparound services in high school and support throughout college, we work to prepare students to reach their goals and achieve their dreams."

The scholarship funds can be used for enrollment in a degree or certificate program at an accredited college, university or career and technical education center. Students who earned the scholarships are planning to attend a variety of colleges in the fall, including Central Connecticut State University, University of Bridgeport, Howard University, University of Connecticut and Naugatuck Valley Community College.

"These students have shown great potential and drive throughout the program," said Sabrina Berg, ECMC Scholars Program manager. "I am proud of the progress they have made and am looking forward to supporting them throughout their educational journey."

Since 2012, ECMC has awarded $3.3 million to 547 ECMC Scholars students in Connecticut alone. Over the past 13 years, ECMC has awarded $16.3 million in scholarships to 2,720 students in Virginia, Oregon and Connecticut. ECMC has committed to supporting an additional 440 students through the class of 2020 with the potential to award up to $2.64 million.

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