Students are not likely to receive the same amount of financial aid every year. This can be a good thing or a bad thing but too often is a bad thing. Students must apply for financial aid each year and any changes in their families’ circumstances can affect their EFC and the amount of money awarded. This can be a good thing when a family’s situation changes for the worst and the student receives additional aid to compensate for a lower EFC. The same would be true if the EFC remained the same but the cost of attendance increases as it has been known to do.
Unfortunately, students can have the exact same EFC from year to year but receive less financial aid, or at least, less grant aid. This is referred to “front loading.” According to Mark Kantrowitz, approximately half of all colleges provides more grants or “gift aid” to students in their freshman year than in the following years. This means that students are likely to be taking out more loans each year as the grant amounts decrease.
You can get an idea if front loading is a concern by visiting College Navigator and comparing the amount of “Grant or Scholarship aid” freshman receive to the average for all undergraduates (This is also available on the DIY College Search Spreadsheet). For NYU, you’ll see that freshman average $30,319 while all undergraduates average $25,146. Or you can check the “Average Percentage of Need Met” at CollegeData.com. NYU met an average of 70% of freshman need but only 62% of all undergraduates.
Schools are able to get away with this because students are unlikely to transfer after their freshman year. Transfer students tend to receive even less generous financial aid awards than “native” students. In other words, after the freshman year, the school has a captive audience and doesn’t have to try as hard.
Finally, scholarships from the school not dependent on need are usually renewable for four years at the same amount only if the student maintains a specific GPA and any other eligibility requirements. Higher GPA requirements make it more likely that students will lose their merit scholarships. Students should check with the school if they have any questions concerning the scholarship requirements and any possible grace periods.