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Can You Back Out of an ED Commitment?

The NY Times article by Ron Lieber, the financial journalist who published “The Price You Pay for College” is getting a lot of attention, mainly because it’s open to misinterpretation. Lieber does not state that everyone can renege on an ED offer if they don’t like the price. Here’s the truth. I’m paraphrasing from a learned colleague who is a financial aid specialist:

Applying (and qualified for) financial aid?

A financial aid applicant who applies ED should not withdraw any other applications until after receiving their financial aid offer to make sure it is affordable. If the financial aid offer does not meet full need and the family believes they cannot afford it, then the family must contact the college financial aid office prior to committing (or not) and prior to withdrawing any other applications.

Not sure what you can or can’t afford? Be very careful.

No one should build a college list without checking each college's Net Price Calculator at the beginning of the process. It’s the only way to see what the expected family contribution (EFC) will be. Here’s where the problem occurs:

Parents who submit the FAFSA and CSS Profile and “hope” for $30,000 in need-based grants may learn to their horror that the school grants only a total $15,000 even though the college meets full need. Panicked, they contact the financial aid office and learn that they must submit their appeal by Monday, December 20 because the college is closing for the holidays. In January, the college tells the family that the award will not be increased. How do these parents tell their child to turn down his acceptance before knowing whether he will be admitted to his other schools and how large their financial aid offers will be? Those offers may not come until April. The parents have put their child in an impossible situation.

Do not back out of an ED offer if you are not applying for financial aid.

Unless there are emergency or extenuating circumstances, the cost of attendance should never be a reason not to follow through with your signed commitment. Expectation of merit aid? There can never be an expectation of merit aid which, of course, many ED schools don’t even offer to non-need applicants. Not applying for financial aid? Reneging on an ED offer of admission is duplicitous at best.

It’s my job to help you understand this…please contact me with any questions about affordability.


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