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 a term associated with the financial aid awarded to students. When the financial aid award offered by a college does not meet a student’s full financial need, this shortfall is referred to as a “gap”.

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. The first preference is given to stellar applicants who have higher grades and test scores or who have 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.

The more average applicants, or students demonstrating less dire financial-need, are allotted smaller financial aid packages that more often than not fall short of the required amount. When the financial aid offered by the college does not cover their full demonstrated financial need, the student is being gapped.

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

Being gapped can be disappointing, in addition to being a waste of time and effort that you put into the application. The best way to minimize your chances of being gapped is by being selective and applying only to colleges that are a good fit for you. 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.

College Raptor Staff

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