If you’ll be filling out the FAFSA during this admission season for a high school teenager, be careful how you list the colleges that your child will be applying to.
Colleges could use that information against you.
Some schools — no one knows how many – are checking the FAFSA to see in what order an applicant lists his or her schools. A family can designate up to 10 schools at one time on the FAFSA. The U.S. Department of Education shares the FAFSA information with all the designated schools on an applicant’s list, as well as applicable state agencies that award aid.
The federal government never intended for this information to be used as a tip sheet for colleges, but it’s apparently become one.
The issue came to the forefront this week when Inside Higher Ed published this story on the phenomenon:
The story suggested that schools could be denying admission and reducing aid to students based on the order of colleges listed on the FAFSA. Some schools might deny admission or wait list students who put the institutions close or nearer the bottom of the list.
Equally troubling, some schools could be giving less aid to students who put their No. 1 choice at the top of the FAFSA list. Schools could conclude that they don’t have to offer as much money to those kids because they are eager to attend.
I had heard about this practice, but had never seen a story regarding it, which prompted me to write the following post for my college blog at CBS MoneyWatch:
One person whom I interviewed for the piece was David Hawkins, the director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. He started making inquiries about the practice after an Inside Higher Ed journalist contacted him. Hawkins told me that he was “surprised how quickly” these insiders were confirming the use of the FAFSA lists.
How You Can Fight Back
I’ve always wondered how schools used this information which is why when I applied for financial aid for my son Ben in 2010, I listed his schools in alphabetical order. It just so happened that his No. 1 school – Beloit College — was also first on the alphabetized list. And that’s what I’d suggest that you do. Alphabetize your list.
A friend of mine with a high school senior suggested this week that she could list just one school at a time on the FAFSA. That would be time consuming and it also wouldn’t work, according to Mark Kantrowitz, the financial aid guru, who is vice president at Edvisors Network. Each time a family submits the FAFSA to another school, an update would go out to all the previous schools on the student’s list.
In reaction to the Inside Higher Ed report, the Department of Education is exploring whether it should stop sharing college lists with schools. I think that is a no brainer.