Should I Apply for Financial Aid?
You'd be surprised how often I get asked by families if they should apply for financial aid. And most of the time I have an easy, quick answer, "YES!"
However, my job isn't to tell people what to do, but to help them come to the decision that is best for them. Generally, I first ask, "Would you appreciate some assistance paying for college?" If the answer is yes, then the student (and family) should apply for financial aid, and be sure to do so on time! Here are some responses I give when I have this conversation with families.
"Is it worth my time?"
The time it takes to apply for financial aid is small compared to the potential reward of receiving financial assistance. On average, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), which is required for most federal, state, and college financial aid, takes about 40 minutes to complete for the first time. The College Board's CSS Profile (which some colleges require in addition to the FAFSA) can take a little longer. Financial aid comes in various forms and every bit can be a great help in paying the college bill.
"Other families didn't qualify"
Families tell me they heard from a relative or neighbor who received no need-based financial aid that applying isn't worth it. I advise against making such an important decision based on that type of hearsay. The truth is, there are many considerations that go into financial aid offering, and no one, other than the family and the financial aid office, knows the true financial picture of each family. Additionally, factors such as the specific colleges where the student has been accepted and the student's academic credentials may come into play in the financial aid process.
"We make too much money"
I encourage those families who believe their financial status will preclude them from qualifying for financial aid to use an Expected Family Contribution (EFC) calculator, such as MEFA's EFC Calculator, to get an estimate of their own EFC. If the family's EFC far surpasses the full cost of the colleges to which the student is applying, the family may choose to skip the process. However, they should be aware there may still be reasons to apply for financial aid:
- In order to receive a Federal Direct Student Loan, a student must file the FAFSA. All students who file the FAFSA, regardless of financial status, can borrow a Federal Direct Student Loan. As well, some state merit-based programs (such as the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship) and college scholarships require that students file a FAFSA.
- If the family's financial status changes significantly, it is far easier on the student and family to seek financial aid consideration if there is a financial aid application on file. It can be a burden in a time of crisis to start the financial aid process.
- Some colleges require the student to submit the FAFSA to be considering for merit scholarships, and your child could even receive a merit scholarship because your family doesn't qualify for need-based aid, which the college will only know if you submit the FAFSA.
"Will it affect the admissions decision?"
Generally, the colleges that do consider a student's financial aid eligibility status do so only when filling the last few spots in an incoming class, perhaps off the waitlist. Applying for financial aid doesn't play a role in those final decisions, but rather the student's actual financial status and eligibility for financial aid. Each college is different, but at most colleges, the financial aid status of the student is not considered in the admissions decision.
Remember, if you think you may need financial aid, apply. MEFA recommends learning as much about the financial aid process as you can. You can watch one of our webinars or read about financial aid on our website. And if you have questions, reach out to us at (800) 449-MEFA (6332) or firstname.lastname@example.org.