by Tara Piantanida-Kelly, former financial aid officer at Menlo College
This time of year, I talk to a lot of parents who are anxious about completing financial aid applications. They’ll ask “Do we really need to complete the FAFSA (and CSS Profile, if applicable)?” And my answer is always “No. But there may be some reasons you may want to complete them.”
No one is required to complete a financial aid application. But before you throw your hat up in the air in celebration of a to-do you can cross off the list, consider these hidden benefits that may change your mind about completing the form(s).
Some schools require the financial aid form(s) even for their merit aid. That’s right. Before deciding not to complete an aid application, make sure that none of the schools on your child’s college application list require the form(s) for their merit aid. Otherwise, you could be leaving money on the table.
Students must submit the FAFSA if they want to borrow a federal student loan. Ditto if the student’s parents want to apply for a Federal Parent PLUS Loan. So if tapping one or both of these federal loan programs is part of your payment strategy for the upcoming school year, you’ll need to complete the FAFSA.
Some schools won’t let students apply for institutional financial aid in subsequent years if they don’t complete a financial aid application for their freshman year. Perhaps the student doesn’t qualify for any need-based financial aid their freshman year, but might qualify in subsequent years. This is a situation where you’ll need to do some research on the schools on your child’s college application list to see if any of them have this policy.
Some schools may offer a small scholarship just for completing an application. They do this as an incentive for students and families to complete the form(s) and access any financial aid they may be eligible for. If spending 30 minutes completing a form gets the student a $250 scholarship, that’s time well spent!
Some parents underestimate their student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid, especially at private schools. When a parent tells me that they know they won’t qualify for need-based aid, I ask them what their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is, and about the results from running the schools’ Net Price Calculators. Before deciding not to complete an aid application, parents should be able to answer these questions. Only then will they know whether there’s any possibility to receive need-based aid at a given school.
If the family has a change in financial circumstances, having an application on file can shorten and simplify the financial aid appeal process. Schools will typically want to compare the family’s current financial situation to the information the family listed on the form(s). If the family hasn’t completed an aid application yet, the school will ask them to do so before they consider the family’s appeal. This could add days (or weeks!) to the school’s decision.
Some schools may offer student employment/institutional work-study just for completing an aid application. Unlike Federal Work-Study, students don’t have to show a demonstrated financial need to work on student employment.
If you’ve read through this list and feel confident that completing an aid application would have no benefit for your family, congratulations! You don’t have to complete the form(s)! But if you’ve found that one of these hidden benefits may apply to your situation, congratulations as well! You’re less likely to leave any money on the table when it comes to paying for college.