News & Politics

George Washington University Put Less-Affluent Students on Wait List

The school told applicants it did not weigh their ability to pay, when it actually prioritized prospective students more able to afford tuition.

George Washington University’s “need-blind” admissions process, in which prospective students are considered regardless of their ability to pay the school’s $60,000 annual price tag, turns out to have been rather cognizant of applicants’ financial status.
For years, the school admitted on Friday, admissions officers wait-listed hundreds of students who cannot pay the full tuition while accepting better-off applicants who would have otherwise been placed on the waiting list, according to the GW Hatchet, the Foggy Bottom university’s campus newspaper.
The process affects up to 10 percent of the 22,000 kids who apply to GW every year, even though the school had proudly advertised its supposedly “need-blind” system on its website for years. The admissions page was scrubbed over the weekend to remove the sentence, “Requests for financial aid do not affect admissions decisions.”
University administrators, who in recent years boasted that GW was offering “need-blind” admissions, now say acknowledging a prospective student’s ability to pay is better for the university’s budget and for the applicants who need a greater amount of financial support, according to the Hatchet. GW’s endowment is $1.37 billion; Northwestern University, which makes “need-blind” admissions decisions, has $7.1 billion in the bank.
The news comes a year after the school suffered embarrassment when it admitted to sending juiced statistics about its freshmen class to US News and World Report. Juking the numbers got the university bounced from US News’s 2013 college rankings, and was followed by the retirement of then-admissions dean Kathryn Napper.
UPDATE, 10/22/13: In a statement released yesterday evening, Laurie Koehler, GW’s new senior associate provost for enrollment management, says the university hasn’t changed the way it reviews prospective students’ need, it’s just being more transparent about it since Koehler started her job in May.
“I believe using the phrase ‘need-aware’ better represents the totality of our practices than the phrase ‘need blind,'” Koehler says. “It is important to note that consideration of need occurs at the very end of the admissions process.
“The first review of applications is need blind and admissions committees recommend candidates for admission with no knowledge of need. Some admissions professionals use the phrase ‘read need blind’ to describe a process like ours where the admissions committees do not have access to the amount of need of an applicant.”
Koehler adds that GW’s practices allow the school to give more generous aid packages to needier students without going over-budget. More than 60 percent of students receive grants from the university, she says.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.