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Need-Based Financial Aid at Vanderbilt

Posted by on Monday, August 9, 2010 in Scholarships and Financial Aid.

Talking about need-based financial aid is one of my least favorite tasks as an admissions counselor.  My students and their families hear the sticker price and absorb little of the discussion that follows.  But stay with me through this conversation.  Those who tune me out are often those who would benefit the most from Vanderbilt’s need-based aid policies.

I get it: financial aid is complicated, it’s stressful to talk about, and every college is different.   I do this for a living and I’m still not sure I understand all the rules.  I’m also not insensitive to the arguments that the price of college is exorbitant.  I’m right there with you – I pay my student loan bill every month and grumble.  Without a doubt, our educators, policy wonks, and elected officials need to talk more about curbing and supporting college costs, but that is a long-term goal.  If you’re reading this today, you likely need to talk about financial aid in the short-term. Pull your head out of the sand – you’ve got to have an honest conversation with your family about money and start asking the right questions now.

In this post I’m talking specifically about need-based aid; I’ll address merit awards at a later date.  Here’s what I’m going to cover in this post:

  • Cost of attendance
  • Need: definition, policy, and practice
  • Student loans
  • Vanderbilt students and need-based aid
  • Action steps


The total estimated cost to attend Vanderbilt this upcoming year is $57,306.  That’s not chump change!  Here’s how it breaks down:

$40,602 (Tuition & Fees) + $13,058 (Room & Board) + $3,646 (Books & Personal expenses) = $57,306

Plan to add in additional fees if you are looking at the School of Engineering; students must purchase a laptop through Vanderbilt which costs around $1,500 and all Engineering students pay a lab fee of $650, these add to the total cost.  Additionally, you should know that all students are required to live on campus their freshman year unless they live in the immediate vicinity with family.  Most students will live on campus all four years; only 10 percent of our students currently reside in non-university housing.

Now that you are completely overwhelmed, you should know you are not alone and there is hope for you at Vanderbilt!  Last January, the New York Times reported two-thirds of seniors had “some” or “major” concerns about paying for college which was the highest level of concern since 1971.  Moreover, the article also said over 40 percent of students listed the cost was a “very important” reason for choosing a particular school.  Approximately 60 percent of Vanderbilt undergraduates pay less than sticker price.  I know that you think I have to say this because I work here, but I’m going to say it anyways: Vanderbilt offers the most generous and straight-forward need-based aid packages I have ever heard of in higher education.


Financial need is the cost of attendance minus your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) at Vanderbilt.

Cost of Attendance – Expected Family Contribution (EFC) = Financial Need

Vanderbilt approaches EFC using its own Institutional Methodology (IM).  We will require students to complete both the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the CSS Profile.  Each of these forms will calculate an EFC for you once you’ve completed it.  Our IM will combine information from the two datasets and calculate its own EFC.  We believe this allows us to be more sensitive to family circumstances such as cost of living; our IM is likely to be very similar to the EFCs produced by FAFSA and the CSS Profile, if not more generous.  Basic example: if you’re EFC is $10,000 and our cost of attendance is $57,306, you have a financial need of $47,306.  A note about your EFC: this will not change unless you receive scholarship money in excess of your financial need.  Outside scholarships will first go towards your need-based financial aid package and will also replace your work expectation, but they do not change the EFC.

In our admissions process we are need-blind.  This means when we read your application for freshman admission we only consider your academics and intangibles presented and we do not make decisions on the basis of financial circumstances.  As an admissions counselor, this is a blessing because I am able to search for the absolute best students without regard for their socioeconomic status.  Another blessing is our commitment to meeting 100% of a student’s financial need.  If you are an admitted student with the financial situation described above, you will receive a need-based aid package totaling $47,306.  To offer you less is a practice known as “gapping” – there is a gap between what you realistically need to attend the college and the amount of your aid package; we do not do that at Vanderbilt, we meet 100% of need.

One last note on need-based aid packages, we do not negotiate or bargain.  If your family has a special situation or feels we did not appropriately consider an aspect of your financial situation, we will work with you further.  However, these are need-based packages, not want-based packages.

Student Loans

The third blessing of financial aid at Vanderbilt is the no-loan policy implemented in 2009.  If you receive admission and a need-based aid package, your award will include no student loans.  It will be 97 percent gift aid (grant money that does not require repayment) and a 3 percent work expectation.  Yes, the expectation is that you will contribute to your education through part-time work, but as you can see, it’s a small expectation.  The vast majority of our aid package is grant and scholarship money!

In 2009, the Chronicle of Higher Education said that “no loan institutions” were hard to identify and understand because many colleges have complicated rules and measures.  Vanderbilt is truly a no loan institution; we don’t have income cut-offs or caps.  If you have financial need, you’ll receive a need-based aid package without student loans.  This is a luxury for our students; the Wall Street Journal found this summer that 40 percent of students 18-29 who had student loans felt the loans significantly impacted their life decisions.  We want our students to graduate free of undue burdens.

Our need-based aid packages do not include loans, but families still have the option to request student loans if they need help with their contribution.  In these situations the Office of Student Financial Aid will work through the options with you.

Vanderbilt Students and Need-Based Aid

Fact, Vanderbilt is an expensive investment.  Fact, Vanderbilt is worth it.  Here are some additional facts:

  • 45.5 percent of undergraduates receive need-based financial aid
  • 60 percent of undergraduates receive some type of financial assistance (need-based grants, merit scholarships, athletic grants, etc.)
  • The median debt for all students who borrowed and graduated in 2009 from a four-year private institution was $22,375; the average indebtedness for those who borrowed graduated from Vanderbilt in 2010 was $18,808
    • Vanderbilt’s Class of 2010 entered college in 2006, prior to the no loan policy implemented in 2009; we expect the average indebtedness to decrease in upcoming years

Action Steps

I am overwhelmed writing all of this information.   There is no doubt you are overwhelmed reading all of this information.  Come back to this article, this isn’t something you can remember from a quick read.  To make it easier on you, I’ve included a few actions steps for you and your family.

  • Talk with your family about money!  Who’s paying for college?  How much are they willing to spend per year?  What are you, the student, expected to contribute?
  • Find out your EFC.  You can use a financial aid calculator to find out.  Even if you think you won’t qualify for need-based aid, it doesn’t hurt to find out.
  • When you’re comparing colleges ask the questions: is admissions need-blind? Is a student’s full financial need met? What percentage of the financial aid package do loans comprise?  Are there requirements to qualify for no loan programs?
  • Wait to find out your admission status before you work with the Office of Financial Aid as it relates to special circumstances.  It’s hard to talk about hypothetical situations.

PS:  The picture above is of Barnie, my purple fish.  I included him to lighten the mood; he has absolutely nothing to do with financial aid.  Although, I’m considering making him an office pet, thoughts?

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  • Blessing Chidiuto Lawrence

    December 7th, 2011

    VU rocks…!!!!!