Reducing uncertainty on cost: Whitman finalizes early financial aid guarantee

Grace Fassio, Staff Reporter

After a year as a pilot program, Whitman’s early financial aid guarantee is now finalized. The free program allows prospective students to learn how much financial aid they would receive from Whitman before they even apply. 

The early financial aid guarantee is available for current high school seniors from early August to Dec. 15. Students need to provide an unofficial copy of their high school transcript and senior year academic schedule to determine what they would earn in merit-based aid. Providing SAT/ACT scores is optional. If students apply for need-based aid, they need to complete both the FAFSA and CSS profile. 

Students will receive a document that includes all the merit and need-based aid they are eligible for at Whitman. These numbers are guaranteed if they apply and are admitted into Whitman.

This program was first offered last year as a pilot program. In an email exchange with The Wire, Vice President for Enrollment and Communications Josh Jensen explained that Whitman wanted to ensure they were able to logistically deliver the promise made by the early financial aid guarantee before permanently offering the program. 

The program’s goal is to help students understand how much financial aid they would earn going to Whitman. This is especially helpful this year due to the financial implications of COVID-19. Whitman’s early financial aid guarantee was featured in late September in a the New York Times article, “How to Predict Merit Aid in a Strange College Application Season. 

In the article, Jensen said, “We’ve been historically opaque [about financial aid], and we wanted to change that.” 

In an email to The Wire, Director of Admissions Adam Miller explained how successful the program has been.

“We received more than 100 requests last year and everything went smoothly, so this year we launched the program even earlier and have been promoting it more heavily,” Miller said. “We’ve already received nearly 50 requests.”

Given the positive response to the program, both Jensen and Miller believe the early financial aid guarantee will continue to be offered in the future. 

Jensen acknowledged that Whitman’s model of education is expensive to provide. However, he explained that many eligible students are unaware how much aid they are eligible for and that the early financial aid guarantee program shows students that finances don’t have to be a barrier when attending Whitman.

“Our main goal in offering an early financial aid guarantee is to help students and families understand what a Whitman education will cost as early in the process as possible,” Jensen said.

The program also allows Whitman’s admission and financial aid staff more opportunities to engage with prospective students.

“Ultimately, this feels like a win-win situation where students get important information earlier in the process and Whitman gets more time to work with and support students and families, which helps us enroll a talented and diverse class of students,” Miller said. 

Jensen explained that the guarantee can give students the assurance they need to apply early decision. It also gives students more time to plan how they are going to pay for college. 

“It reduces uncertainty about cost and finances,” Jensen said. “This is always valuable, but it’s even more valuable now in the midst of COVID, which is causing financial uncertainty for many families.”

Whitman alumnus and parent Chris Beard posted on a college blog after using the early financial aid guarantee last year for her daughter. She believes that taking the time to complete the forms is worth it.

“Whitman is now her top choice and more importantly even though I assumed it was not going to be financially possible I was wrong,” Beard said. “I can make the finances work. In fact, based on the net price calculator for other schools, Whitman may end up being the most affordable for me.”