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How Last Year’s FA Data Can Inform Your Upcoming Season

June 24, 2024
Jen Bash
Client Success Manager

In the vibrant town of Learnersville, there was an engaging institution known as Excellence Academy. Once celebrated for its generous financial aid awards, Excellence Academy noticed a troubling trend: its competitive edge with financial aid applicants was slipping. Yield rates on financial aid applicants were declining, and financial aid appeals were increasing. Families cited rising living expenses as a significant concern, leaving them feeling unable to afford tuition. While these families had assets, the high interest rates made them reluctant to leverage these for tuition expenses.

Mrs. Whitfield, the diligent financial aid director, realized that simply requesting an increased financial aid budget from the Head of School wouldn't suffice without robust data to support the changes. It was time to delve deeper into the data to understand the evolving financial landscape of the families applying to Excellence Academy.

Your Crystal Ball: Last Year’s Data Points

Your previous season’s financial aid data can be a powerful tool to help you analyze and understand the financial needs of the potential new applicant pool. While a comprehensive data export is useful, focusing on key data points can provide clearer insights. A good set of data points to start with for each of your applicant families are:

  • Total Income
  • Parent-Reported Expenses
  • Assets
  • Family Size

What is Your “Typical” Family?

Using your historical data points, create a composite of a typical family in your applicant pool as a starting point for your insights. Looking at your data, consider the most common family size and the median income for these families. This helps you understand your baseline applicant.

When analyzing financial data, it's essential to distinguish between median and average values. The median, which represents the middle point where half of your applicants earn more and half earn less, can be more meaningful as it reduces the impact of extreme values. This approach provides a clearer picture of the typical applicant and is often the better choice when developing your typical family composite.

Next, look at families from last year that came close to your typical family profile. Consider the median asset values for items such as home equity, bank and 529 accounts, retirement savings, and investments.

And finally, once you have built a profile of a typical financial aid family from last year, consider — what would you have offered this family in aid? Do you feel that that family would, or should, feel that your school is affordable to them?

Should I Make Changes Next Year?

Using historical data and building profiles representative of a typical family can help you understand whether your financial aid policies are aligned with your families’ financial needs. But what if you feel the alignment needs adjusting? What if this analysis, along with other factors such as financial aid appeals increasing, indicates that policy changes are needed? You have multiple levers to pull here.

Analyzing Expense Data

Schools often set expense caps to accommodate required expenses beyond standard living allowances. These categories might include:

  • Childcare
  • Post-Tax Retirement Contributions
  • Student Loan Payments

Reviewing both the average and median values for these expenses helps evaluate your current methodology settings and provides deeper insights into your applicant pool's financial needs. For example, if the majority of your families report expenses that exceed your childcare cap, might this be an area where a cap increase would better reflect your area’s childcare costs?

Analyzing Asset Data

Considering asset data similarly can also help you evaluate your policy decisions around protecting assets. A percentage of the assets are added to a family’s discretionary income, and may make it appear they can pay more tuition. If your families are feeling like they are being stretched too much, this is an area to consider. What assets does your typical family have? How do these compare to the students who appealed or declined your offer? Do you feel that you are meeting the needs of these families? 

  • Primary Home Equity
  • Additional Real Estate Equity
  • Bank Account Balances
  • Other Investments
  • 529 Accounts

Leveraging Data for Strategic Decisions

This data technique of building a “typical” family profile and then evaluating your school’s affordability for that family can give you more confidence in your financial aid policy choices. For those schools using Clarity for financial aid, you can use our Policy Simulator tool to further refine your strategy. This tool allows you to test policy changes in a sandbox environment. For instance, you could explore the impact of increasing housing protection on the financial aid budget and for each individual student.

By simulating these changes, you can see how adjustments might meet the needs of families who previously appealed or declined enrollment. This data-driven approach helps ensure that any policy modifications are grounded in real-world scenarios, aligning with the school's mission and enhancing accessibility for deserving students.


Leveraging detailed financial data and modern analytical tools enables financial aid directors to make informed, strategic decisions. By understanding the financial profiles of applicant families and testing policy changes, schools like Excellence Academy can maintain their competitive edge, support their mission, and ensure education remains accessible to all students.








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