You might be asking yourself “Do I need to fill out the FAFSA even if I don’t qualify for financial aid?” and the answer is—it depends.
The forms that come along with the college admissions process can be overwhelming. There are college applications, scholarship applications, loan applications, and not to mention financial aid forms.
If you’re an upper-middle class family, your EFC (Expected Family Contribution) may be too high to qualify for need-based aid at any of the schools your student is considering.
So, if you’re going to be paying for college without relying on need-based financial aid, you might be thinking do I really need to fill out FAFSA, right?
(By the way, this question comes up at least once a day in our PayingForCollege101 Facebook group.)
Here are some commonly asked questions about if you should fill out the FAFSA even if you don’t expect to qualify for need-based aid:
Why Should I Fill Out FAFSA?
It’s worth it to apply
Many families who don’t feel the need to bother to fill out the FAFSA just assume they won’t get financial aid but that’s not always the case.
And one shouldn’t always “assume.”
You may be pleasantly surprised at the amount of aid you get.
And, if there is even a slim chance, what’s the harm in applying?
Families are often poor judges of their own neediness, and there are a lot of factors that go into determining EFC and need.
You never know how your actual financial situation will compare to the cost of the school your child is targeting.
Frankly, college is more expensive than ever, so even if you earn a lot of money, you may find you have need at specific schools, and that helps you qualify for aid.
It all depends on how a college gives out aid and where your EFC is relative to a school’s financial aid policy.
Until you’ve done that research to know what percent of financial need a college meets and how your EFC compares to the college’s cost of attendance, don’t rule out filling out FAFSA.
Here’s a pleasant surprise a member of our Paying For College 101 group shared with us. She was reluctant to fill out FAFSA, but see what happened…
You Need to Submit the FAFSA for Federal Loans
The federal government offers student and parent loans that are not need-based that can help your student afford college.
These loans generally have very favorable interest rates and repayment terms, which can help lessen the impact of school debt after graduation.
Any student, regardless of income, who wants to borrow federal student loans (also known as Stafford or Direct student loans), must fill out FAFSA to get access to these loans.
In addition, any parent, regardless of income, who would like to borrow the Parent PLUS Loan must also fill out FAFSA.
Another thing to keep in mind is that unforeseeable things happen and your situation can always change.
A job loss, a serious injury, or a death in the family can impact your financial situation at any time while your student is in college.
Having a FAFSA on file can give you a leg up in case your student needs aid in the future.
Here’s advice from a member of our Paying For College 101 group…
Some Schools Require FAFSA for Merit Aid
While policies vary depending on the school, it is possible that your student will not be offered merit aid if they do not fill out a FAFSA.
Sometimes the FAFSA requirement is to verify citizenship or colleges want to make sure a student has maximized their need-based aid.
Other times, your student will get special recruitment scholarship offers if they filled out a FAFSA but didn’t qualify for need-based aid.
Will having financial need hurt your student’s chances of being admitted?
Sometimes yes and sometimes no.
It depends on the financial aid philosophy of the college.
Colleges are either considered need-blind or need-aware when it comes to how they consider financial aid as part of their admissions process.
Even with need-aware admission, only students who are on the borderline are affected by having financial need.
Of course, if you fill out a FAFSA and it shows you don’t have financial need at the school, then the application won’t be affected either way because you won’t actually use need-based aid.
Is FAFSA Required?
Filling out FAFSA is not required to apply or attend college. However, if a student and their family doesn’t fill out FAFSA, they won’t be able to access any federal funding, grants, Direct Student loans or the Parent Plus loan.
Subsidized and Unsubsidized Direct Student Loans offer students the option to borrow federal loans that are in the student name without a cosigner. As an incoming freshman it is very difficult to find a lender willing to lend money to students with little to no credit history. This is why it’s important for students to consider borrowing Direct Student Loans before any other loan option, and in turn make sure they fill out FAFSA to get access to these loans.
Do I Need to Fill Out FAFSA Every Year?
Yes. If your student wants to be considered by the college, state, or federal government for financial aid (grants, loans, and scholarships), they need to fill out the FAFSA each year.
In addition, your financial need may change each year. For example:
- Your student may have a one-time scholarship that helps for freshman year, but won’t extend into sophomore year or beyond.
- You may have additional children who will be starting college.
- Your income may be different, the school’s cost may change, your student may transfer, and much more.
Filling out the FAFSA never hurts, and it’s not a difficult process.
Do You Need Help Finding Colleges Offering Merit Aid?
Are you looking to manage your college financial situation by finding a school that’s generous with merit aid?
Don’t spend hundreds of hours compiling data yourself and still wonder if you missed something.
Check out our College Insights tool for researching colleges and developing a list of affordable schools that can offer your student merit scholarships.
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