Financial Aid and FAFSA
October 1st marks the beginning of a new financial aid cycle as the 2018-19 FAFSA goes online. One recurrent theme I get each year is when students should file their FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and whether filing a FAFSA application will hurt their chances for admission or merit aid.
Do I need to file the FAFSA if I don’t have financial need?
At last count, less than a dozen schools required the FAFSA to be eligible for merit aid. This means that if you’re a full-pay student, you don’t need to file the FAFSA. However, if you or your family may need to borrow money during the school year, it is always helpful to have the FAFSA on file, or to file it after you’ve been admitted. FAFSA is required to borrow money from one of the two available federal loan programs – Stafford loans (students) and PLUS loans (parents). Think of it as a no-cost insurance policy against major changes in a family’s financial situation, like job loss or illness.
If I need to file the CSS Profile, do I need to file a FAFSA application to?
The CSS Profile provides an alternate view of a family’s financial situation. The Profile builds a picture of a family’s assets, income and debt in the same way the IRS 1040 does, while the FAFSA starts with gross income and builds a picture of available income with allowances and deductions. Because they offer colleges two views of student and family income and assets, all schools that require the CSS Profile will require both forms. While the vast majority of schools only require the FAFSA, all schools that offer 100% needs-met financial aid and several of the more selective schools require the CSS Profile.
Will filing the FAFSA hurt my chances of getting into college?
Almost all schools are “needs aware” these days. This means that while they don’t base admission on a student’s financial situation, it is possible that financial need may influence a school’s choice of admission for a student or two “on the bubble.”
I may file a FAFSA application. Should I check the “I’m planning to apply for financial aid” box on my application?
If you check this box, you need to file a FAFSA. Many schools will consider your application incomplete if you don’t. If you’re not sure you’re going to file – don’t check the box. You can file the FAFSA regardless. But if you discover that you do want to be considered for loans or other needs-based aid, you also need to call your schools and tell them that you want them to be aware of your changed status.