Schwartz: Northwestern should not penalize students for earning outside scholarships

Alex Schwartz, Columnist

Back in May, I was ecstatic to learn I had received a $5,000 merit-based scholarship through a company my mom works for. Though $5,000 is less than 15 percent of the average yearly cost of Northwestern, I thought the money would still help me cover the cost of my college education.

As it turns out, the grant has caused me significant financial difficulty on campus due to the Office of Financial Aid’s policy on outside scholarships.

At NU, outside scholarships do not reduce the amount of money families are expected to pay out of pocket. Instead, they are absorbed into students’ existing financial aid packages, first replacing small, need-based student loans and work-study allotment, and then replacing existing grants the office has already awarded. This results in no change to the expected family contribution, effectively rendering any outside scholarship useless.

When I got to campus and began searching for a job, I found it extremely difficult to find any on-campus positions as a non-work-study student, and I’m still without a source of income to cover my day-to-day expenses. Not only that, I am also without the valuable, real-world employment experience that the work-study program provides.

I’m not alone. I know of many people whose financial situations have been made worse off simply because they were awarded outside scholarships.

One of those people is Weinberg junior Jena Difiore. She said she received an outside scholarship that would have covered her expected family contribution with money to spare — if not for the financial aid office’s policy on outside scholarships.

In her case, the outside scholarship ended up replacing some of the grants the financial aid office had originally awarded her, leaving her with no way to cover the expected family contribution.

Given the financial aid office’s convoluted policy regarding outside scholarships, it almost doesn’t seem worth it to apply for them in the first place. The scholarships may look nice on a resume, but they don’t end up making it any easier for students or their families to pay NU’s cost of attendance. They only free up funds for the financial aid office.

I understand that it may be the financial aid office’s goal to maximize the amount of aid it can give to all students, and it likely uses such funds for the benefit of students without outside scholarships. But students who earn outside scholarships on their own merit should not be punished by financial aid policies.

I urge Northwestern to consider the needs of individual students and to adopt an outside scholarship policy that celebrates students’ achievements instead of creating financial difficulty because of them.

College is expensive. Students shouldn’t be penalized for being financially proactive.

Alex Schwartz is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.