September 2, 2021

What Is The FAFSA?

Although this could be the most boring blog you’ll read all month, I’m afraid it is too important to ignore if you’re looking to qualify for scholarships or other financial aid from colleges in the next year or two.

I get questions several times a week about the process of applying for financial aid, whether a person can even qualify and so forth, so consider the following an abbreviated public service announcement to clear up some of the confusion.

Qualifying for money: There are two categories of aid: need-based and merit aid. Need-based aid is based on your financial resources — income, savings, etc. — that the Department of Education, via the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Financial Aid), determines you can use to pay for college.

Spoiler alert: bureaucrats and formulas don’t always get it right! (Understatement of the year.)

The other most widely used financial aid application is the CSS Profile. 400+ colleges require it IN ADDITION — not in lieu of — the FAFSA.

The main difference between the two is that the CSS Profile is approximately twice as lengthly (and 10 times more complicated) than the FAFSA. It’s used by colleges that have their own resources (mostly private colleges and universities), that’s why it’s more complicated.

Deadlines for each college vary, there is no universal deadline to file.  Financial aid deadlines are DIFFERENT than deadlines for admission, fyi.

Merit aid is given out to deserving students for different, non-financial reasons.  The most common reasons are high GPA (unweighted) and high SAT or ACT scores.

But the plain truth is that merit is in the eye of the beholder.  Colleges award it for any reason they think important, reasons that may not seem “fair” to you or me.  Such as where the applicant lives, if he’s from an upper middle class, mass-affluent neighborhood, that will likely help the student get into that college AND get merit aid.

Not politically correct, but what do you expect?

A final comment about possibly the least discussed, and therefore the most overlooked aspect of getting money for college: the school’s generosity. One family can look great on paper (meaning, low income, low savings) and clean up at one college, but get nothing from another!

This result is not based on the family’s financials, in this case, it’s all about the college, and possibly about how the kid stacked up compared to her competitors applying to the same college.

For more information, view the replay of our recent webinar covering the ins and outs of the FAFSA!

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