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Articles / Paying for College / With a High EFC, Am I Wise to Skip Financial Aid Applications?

Sept. 9, 2019

With a High EFC, Am I Wise to Skip Financial Aid Applications?

With a High EFC, Am I Wise to Skip Financial Aid Applications?
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I know my family won't qualify for financial aid because our expected family contribution is $75,000 and none of my schools cost more than that. My parents say to fill out the FAFSA anyway because they're sure I'll get financial aid. But my cousin said it will help my chances of getting in if I mark on the application that I will NOT be applying for financial aid. What would the point be of completing the FAFSA when I know I won't get any financial aid and it could hurt my chances of getting in? Should I skip the FAFSA and mark on applications that I won't be seeking financial aid?

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 editorial@collegeconfidential.com.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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