With a High EFC, Am I Wise to Skip Financial Aid Applications?
IF you are applying to colleges that are “need aware" (meaning that your financial circumstances may be considered when your admission decision is made) then it can indeed work in your favor if you don't apply for financial aid. BUT ... this is primarily true if you are a borderline candidate. If you are already a strong contender, your aid application won't hurt you (especially when the financial aid folks tell their admission office pals that you won't get any dough anyway!)
So if you suspect that you are on the cusp at any of your need-aware target colleges, checking the “No aid" box could be a plus, although first you should talk frankly with your parents about why they insist that you complete the FAFSA.
Here are some reasons for doing so:
1. Completing a FAFSA is not the same as applying for financial aid. You can still tell your need-aware colleges that you are not seeking assistance, and you can then apply for aid (if your parents are set on it) at any “need blind" schools on your list, because your financial aid application won't be part of your admission verdict.
2. At some colleges, students who apply as “no need" freshmen must wait at least two years before applying for aid. So if you don't seek it now, and then next year there are changes in your family's financial picture (e.g., a parent loses a job or becomes ill and cannot work), you may not get aid, even if you otherwise qualify. This isn't a common practice, but it does exist.
3. A handful of colleges these days cost a bit more than $75K/year (total cost of attendance). If you decide to apply to such schools, you probably won't be given any “grant" money (the good stuff that doesn't have to be repaid), only loans, but it's worth a shot to try.
4. Occasionally, merit scholarships are awarded only to students who submit a FAFSA, even if these grants aren't actually based on need. This is very uncommon. Thus, if you're hoping for a merit scholarship from any of your target colleges, you should check with the admission office to determine if a FAFSA will be necessary. Chances are, however, it won't be.
4. There may be extenuating circumstances that are behind your parents' conviction that you will receive financial aid despite the high EFC. These, too, are uncommon. But perhaps your family has legitimate expenses that the FAFSA doesn't recognize. For example, if you have a disabled sibling who requires special programs or therapies that take a big chunk out of your household income, your parents could explain this in a letter to financial aid officials who then might adjust your EFC.
Completing a FAFSA (and the other forms that colleges may demand, such as the CSS Profile) is only a minor pain. So if your parents are keen to do it, this is a battle you may not want to pick. However, “The Dean" is concerned that your parents' unrealistic expectation of financial assistance could mean that your overall college list will be top-heavy with places that you can't afford when no aid appears. So as you make your college choices, be sure to include schools that should be affordable even without aid. Look closely at in-state public institutions and at colleges that award generous merit money and where your grades and test scores put you at the top of the applicant pool. Otherwise you may be frustrated and disappointed in the spring when you have to say “No" to many colleges that have said “Yes" to you.
About the Ask the Dean Column
Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.