Here’s a variation of a question that I always get at this time of year:
Someone told me yesterday that it’s better to answer “No” to the “Do you intend to apply for need based financial aid” question on the Common Application. My son has already submitted his applications and he answered “yes” to that question as we are not sure if we would qualify for aid but we thought we should answer yes. A friend yesterday told me that if you answer “no” that the schools put you in a different pile since they know you can pay full price and you are more likely to get accepted. Is there any truth to this?
As far as I’m concerned, failing to apply for financial aid will often be a mistake. Here are three reasons why:
1. Checking the box won’t hurt your chances.
If you ultimately won’t qualify for financial aid, it won’t matter if you check the box on the application that indicates that you will seek assistance. Schools want to know if a teenager will apply for aid because the financial aid office will need to be involved with generating a financial aid package. If the school determines that your family will not qualify for need-based aid, the school will put your student in the same category as the applicants who did not request financial aid.
2. You could receive financial aid.
Parents often don’t have a good idea about whether they will qualify for financial aid, which is why it’s important to complete the financial aid forms. A student who doesn’t qualify for aid at an in-state public university, may qualify for significant help at an expensive private institution.
I wrote a post this fall over at my college blog at CBS MoneyWatch that illustrates how even families who might assume they wouldn’t qualify for aid at expensive schools can. For the post, I used Princeton’s financial aid calculator and assumed that the parents made $300,000 in income had two children in college. In this scenario, the Princeton student would have been eligible for nearly $26,000 in need-based aid.
3. You could get into financial trouble by failing to ask for aid.
I got an email recently from a parent who wondered if they should skip the aid request for the freshman year, but make the request before the child’s sophomore year. I couldn’t find the email, but I recall that the parents had saved about $70,000 or $80,000 for college, which could cover all of the first year’s expenses at a private institution and part of the second year.
I think holding off and applying the second year would be a poor idea. What happens if you apply for aid for a child’s second year and receive a mediocre package that’s stuffed with loans? Can you imagine parents having to tell a child that he/she will have to leave for a cheaper school because they can’t afford it? When parents need financial aid, they should apply upfront.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of the second edition of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price.