Does Income Affect College Admissions?

Whether income affects college admissions is not necessarily a straightforward answer. It can impact admissions on a certain level, but that really varies by school. To understand this better, let’s explore the interplay between finances, scholarships, and financial aid.

Scholarships, Financial Aid, and Finances

Colleges have buckets of money that they can award to students. Many schools have a bucket that’s merit based. For example, let’s say Susie was accepted to a school that is going to give her a merit scholarship of $20,000 a year for four years as long as she maintains a 3.0 GPA. This award comes out of their merit money bucket and that bucket is not infinite. Not all schools give merit money. There are plenty of schools that only award monies based on financial need. Typically these schools are the most selective schools in the U.S.

Then there’s the financial aid bucket. This bucket is not infinite either. Schools have to decide if a student has financial need and how much they’re going to award them. This need is based on the student/family’s finances. The formula is based on something called Expected Family Contribution, which is what the federal government and the college say you can pay for one year of your child’s college education. We have A LOT of information on our website about Expected Family Contribution and financial aid that we highly recommend you explore, such as:

How Much Financial Aid Should I Expect?

Changes to the FAFSA: Student Aid Index Replaces Expected Family Contribution

Can You Negotiate Financial Aid Package?

Does Everyone Get Financial Aid?

Is There a Limit on Financial Aid?

How Much Financial Aid Should I Expect?

How Does a 529 Plan Affect Financial Aid?

How Do Federal Student Loans Work?

Can You Combine Scholarships and Financial Aid?

Just because the government and the college say you can afford X amount of dollars for college doesn’t mean that they are going to cover the remainder. On the contrary. They can decide to only cover 40%, 60%, or 100% of their amount – or they could decide to cover nothing.

How Financials Impact Admissions

Now, let’s go back to the question of does income affect college admissions. In addition to the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) which determines aid, some of the schools may also require that you complete the CSS profile so they can learn more about your financial aid needs. This information tells them that if they don’t award any money you may not come to the school, which can factor into their admissions decision. Remember, the buckets of money are not infinite. If the school has much deeper pockets when it comes to awarding financial aid, you may have a better likelihood of getting in academically if you meet or exceed their admissions criteria and depending upon the strength of the applicant pool..

If you don’t demonstrate financial need, you may want to apply to schools that have deeper merit money pockets where you would be on the upper end of the applicant pool so you can potentially get some money.

In summary, the short answer is income can affect college admissions. Being a full pay student can benefit you based on the school and their available funds. That’s not to say that you should go to a school that you and your parents can’t afford and that’s going to put you in incredible debt. That is the last thing you want to do.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.