Financial aid concerns effect students’ chances of admission

Karen Wu

About 20% of Harvard-Westlake’s (HW) student body receives financial aid. Nonetheless, financial aid can make admission to HW more difficult, according to the HW website.

“In the same way we are limited by the number of spaces we have available at HW, we are limited by the size of our financial aid budget,” HW Director of Financial Aid Aaron Mieszczanski said. “At a certain point, we do have to take into account how many students we are able to support with our financial aid funds and make some hard decisions.”

According to Greg Gonzalez, HW Director of Financial Aid, and Mieszczanski, financial aid at HW is need-aware. Need-aware schools consider an applicant’s financial aid needs when making admission decisions while need-blind schools don’t.

However, HW President and Head of School Rick Commons said that the HW admissions process starts as need-blind.

“We do not categorize applicants by financial background,” said Commons. “We preserve that approach for as long as possible, focusing on an applicant’s talent and character. At the end of the process, as we allocate our annual financial aid budget, we become ‘need-aware’ so that we don’t over-spend.”

Currently, the annual financial aid budget is more than $11 million, according to the HW website. HW Director of Financial Aid Greg Gonzalez says that he doesn’t have much input on that budget.

About 50% of the amount annually withdrawn from the HW endowment fund goes into financial aid, according to HW Chief Financial Officer David Weil. An endowment fund is a sum of money that an organization invests so that they have a consistent flow of money to fund initiatives.

“Our endowment is approximately $120 million,” Weil said. “There is a formula that dictates how much money can be removed from the endowment each year in support of school operations.”

The amount was confirmed by Commons.

Commons also said that HW draws “on the endowment at approximately 4.5% per year, on the assumption that [HW’s] investments will grow by at least that much each year.”

Most of HW’s endowment is unrestricted, meaning the money drawn can be used for any purpose. There are also restricted endowment funds, which target specific categories, the largest two being faculty compensation and financial aid.

Using the numbers given by Weil and Commons, the endowment contributes $2.7 million to the financial aid budget. The remainder comes from Annual Giving and tuition revenue.

HW Director of Advancement Eli Goldsmith said that financial aid is a top fundraising priority.

“To raise the funds, members of the Office of Advancement and other school leaders identify donors with an interest in financial aid, cultivate relationships with those families, and ask them to create named family funds (beginning at $100,000) to support this effort,” Goldsmith said.

Commons wants to increase the percentage of students receiving financial aid by 5% to 25%, according to the HW website. Other private schools in the LA area such as Marlborough, Loyola, and Polytechnic have percentages ranging from 20% to 27%,

“The real reasons for that target are: it is a round number (and would equate to approximately 400 students), it is—like everything else we do at HW—quite ambitious, it would make our student body significantly more talented and diverse, and it would provide significantly more access to a HW education for a broader cross-section of LA families,” Commons said. “Since we don’t want to increase tuition by more than a small percentage each year, the only way to reach this goal is through fundraising from generous parents and alumni.”

In a survey with 177 responses, 44.1% said that receiving financial aid impacts a student’s experience at HW, while 29.9% said they weren’t sure and 26% said no.

“It doesn’t affect my experience at Harvard Westlake because it doesn’t matter and I still receive the same education regardless of how much money my family makes,” said an anonymous survey respondent who is on financial aid.

Another anonymous survey respondent on financial aid said that many people are under the misconception that everyone on Harvard-Westlake is rich.

“Some people are oblivious to the fact that not everyone at the school is as rich as they think, and I feel like someone needs to tell them that,” they said. “It can make me pretty angry. It can also make you pretty uncomfortable if you want to explain that poorer people exist to someone, but you also don’t want to tell everyone how much financial aid you are receiving and why.”