Do You Need to Complete the FAFSA?
Updated: Oct 13
Most families with students applying to college have heard of the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is a form you need to complete to obtain financial aid from the federal government.
The application opens on October 1st. The federal deadline is June 30th, but State and individual colleges set their own deadlines, which are usually between February and March. However, some colleges have much earlier, priority deadlines, so it’s important to do your research and know your deadlines.
But, do I need to bother filling out a FAFSA? I know I won’t qualify for financial aid.
Many parents with household incomes above a certain threshold wonder if they should even bother completing the form, thinking they likely will not qualify for need-based aid.
The short answer is, "You do not have to file the FAFSA for your student to apply to college." It is not a requirement and most colleges will be quite happy to consider your child for admission without considering them for financial aid.
But before you let those deadlines pass you by, consider these questions. Your answers may influence your decision, even if you are at a higher income level.
Did You Check?
Are you absolutely certain you will not qualify for financial aid at the colleges your child is applying to? Did you fill out the Net Price Calculator (NPC) on that college’s website? If not, visit the college's financial aid website and fill out their NPC to learn what students like yours paid to attend the institution in the previous year. Confirm that you are not eligible. Don’t just assume.
Might Your Financial Circumstances Change?
There are several factors that might affect your finances over the next four years.
Do You Have More Than One College-Bound Student?
Do you have another child who will be starting college soon? Or perhaps you have one in college now and are getting ready to send off another child. Your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) is divided among the children you have enrolled in college at any one time. If your EFC is high for one dependent student, you might not qualify for aid when your oldest child goes to college. But you may be eligible for more aid if more than a child is enrolled at the same time.
Do You Have a Crystal Ball?
During these uncertain times, it’s wise to be prepared for unexpected financial fluctuations. Some colleges will not consider a later financial aid application based on a change of financial circumstances unless you applied initially. So, you might want to get an application on file just in case.
Keep in mind that the FAFSA is based on your prior-prior year income. If your current financial situation is different than it was two years ago, you can report this change in circumstance directly to the college financial aid administrators. But they must FIRST have your FAFSA on file before they can consider your appeal.
Does the College Require the FAFSA for Merit Aid?
At most colleges, financial aid awards and merit scholarships are not connected. However, in rare cases, some colleges won’t consider a student for merit scholarship unless they file the FAFSA. There are a couple of reasons that might drive this.
One reason for the requirement may be that the college’s merit scholarships are restricted to U.S. citizens and they use the FAFSA to verify this.
Another reason for the policy, shared by former Boston University financial aid officer and current college coach Shannon Vasconcelos, is that filling out the form signals to the college you are a “price-conscious consumer.” Completing the FAFSA indicates to the college that money makes a difference to you and that it will be a consideration when your student decides which college to ultimately attend. For these colleges, merit awards are used as an enrollment enticement. The reasoning here is that if you don’t fill out the FAFSA, they assume you are willing to pay full price. The college will grant their merit money to the families who indicate their price-conscious perspective (regardless of whether they actually qualify for need-based aid or not).
Again, the requirement of the FAFSA for merit scholarships is rare, but you should still verify with the college’s financial aid office or website to be sure if you are considering not filling the application.
Have You Considered the Benefits of a Student Loan?
Finally, some parents may want their students to put some “skin in the game” and have them take out a student loan to help pay for college. Having a bit of a "stake" in their college education can be a strong motivator for success. Plus, repaying a low-interest student loan is a great way for young adults to establish good credit.
The government student loans are likely the best deal you can get in terms of a loan in your student’s name and the FAFSA is required to obtain these loans. Current federal loan interest rates for dependent undergraduate students are 2.25%. These rates apply to loans taken out between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
Ready to take the next step and file the FAFSA?
Here's what you can do NOW to properly begin the FAFSA:
Keep in mind the FAFSA belongs to the student, although many parents complete this form on their child's behalf.
It is best for students to begin the process by creating their Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID). This is their digital fingerprint associated with their name and email address.
Anyone else who expects to access the student's FAFSA must create their own FSA ID as well, but only after the student has created theirs. If the student is less than 18-years-old, the parent will need to cosign the FAFSA and will therefore require their own FSA ID.
Create the FSA ID here.
You can begin filling out the application on October 1st. The FAFSA form you will fill out is the 2021–22 FAFSA.
How to file the FAFSA: A Step by Step Walk Through
Note: Some colleges also use the CSS Profile to get a more complete picture of a family's financial resources. But the FAFSA is the application that provides access to federal aid.
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