Could You Be Giving Away Too Much on the FAFSA?

What your FAFSA says about your first choice college.

By Kathryn Knight Randolph

December 08, 2014

Could You Be Giving Away Too Much on the FAFSA?

The FAFSA is perhaps one of the most invasive questionnaires you and your family will ever complete. It asks about your private financial situation, special family circumstances and everything else in between. When it’s all said and done, many families feel as if they didn’t get enough financial aid to cover the cost of college. So imagine that colleges may be taking further advantage of you on the FAFSA by reading into the information you provide, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Really?! How?!

There is a lot to be inferred by the order in which you list schools you have applied to on the FAFSA, states U.S. News and World Report. Many students indicate their preferences in order, placing their top choice first on the list. The article cites a study by Noel-Levitz which found that students enrolled at the first school listed on their FAFSA at a 64% rate.

Colleges around the country are reading into this, but the news is good for students. They’re actually awarding more merit and financial aid to those students who have selected that college as their first choice. So remember: as you’re filling out your FAFSA in January, indicate your preferred schools in order; it may benefit you financially.

But wait a second…

If you don’t have the grades or the test scores to get into your top choice, you can forget about this strategy. Listing Harvard on the top line when you’re a C-average student won’t get you admitted, implies U.S. News and World Report. At the same time, not all schools use this portion of the FAFSA as another tool in which to woo potential students.

Admissions Officer, Jon Boeckenstedt, at DePaul University told U.S. News and World Report that, “We [at DePaul] have never, ever, ever used FAFSA position for any reason other than to project enrollment patterns of the group. We have never used it to award more or less aid; we have never used it to decide whether or not to admit anyone."

The Final Word

While this all seems like good news for students, you shouldn’t depend on this methodology for getting into your top choice college. Rather, you’re going to have to get in the good, old fashioned way: your grades and test scores. However, listing your school preferences in order may impact how much financial aid you receive, making it more plausible for you to attend your first choice. This subtle detail could mean the difference between you just be accepted to your top choice and actually attending there.

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