What Is “Gapping” In College Admissions?

Like a gap on a sidewalk, gapping is when a college can't meet the full financial needs of a student.

Flickr user Simon Law

Gapping is associated with a student’s financial aid award. A gap is when the college offers a financial aid award that does not meet a student’s full financial need.

Typically, the balance you get after subtracting your Estimated Family Contribution or EFC from the total cost of attendance for a specific college is considered as your demonstrated financial need. Some colleges cover this need 100% through various institutional scholarships and grants. But if the college fails to cover 100% of your financial need, it is called gapping.

Financial Aid Gapping

When a college does not have sufficient funds to cover the financial aid for all students in the applicant pool, they allot their available funds very carefully. Schools give first preference to stellar applicants with higher grades and test scores or with some other outstanding accomplishment. Colleges really want these high performing applicants to be part of their institution. To make it easy for them, they then offer these students generous financial aid packages.

For more average applicants, or students demonstrating less dire financial-need, colleges allot smaller financial aid packages that more often than not fall short of the required amount. The college’s financial aid offer does not cover their full demonstrated financial need. Thus, there is a gap.

Colleges typically resort to gapping when they are trying to fill a quota, and they are gambling that the gapped students will find other external methods for covering that pay gap—outside scholarships, work-study programs, federal loans, and private loans.

What You Can Do To Avoid Being Gapped

Understandably, students feel disappointed. Not only that, it feels like wasted time and effort spent on your application. Minimize your gapping chances; select and apply only to colleges that feel like a good fit. Check out the average GPA and test scores of the applicants to get a better idea of how you measure up. If your GPA and test scores fall way below the average applicant to that college, there is a higher chance you will be gapped. Apply to those colleges where you fare the same as or better than the average applicant.

College Raptor makes this sort of research easier. By filling out your information in our free college match tool, you can see what sort of financial aid you can expect from nearly every 4-year college in the US—based on your GPA, test scores, and personal finance situation.

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