Parents of high school seniors across the country know that the first day they can complete this year’s FAFSA is October 1.
Despite the upcoming changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), parents should understand that completing it is their first step to getting need-based financial aid from the colleges their child is applying to. However, families with reasonably high household incomes ($200,000+) are often advised that completing the FAFSA is a waste of their time.
We would like to agree, but our work with families has revealed two benefits to completing the financial aid applications:
Access to federal student loans
The only way to get a federal Direct student loan ($5,500 for freshman year) is to complete the FAFSA. Even if your family has saved enough or makes enough to pay for college out of pocket, student loans can play an important role in a comprehensive college funding strategy. As Sam Feeney, Real Frequency’s Director of College Financial Aid, notes, “With loans being forgiven and the market poised for a comeback in the near future, many families are interested in keeping their investments where they are and using the government’s low-interest loans to pay for part of college.”
2. Unlocking merit aid
Even if your family won’t qualify for need-based aid, some schools will delay awarding merit aid based on your child’s grades, test scores, or extracurricular accomplishments until you complete the financial aid applications. Colleges want to give the most generous award possible, but they’re intent on including need-based aid in their package. This leaves families scrambling to complete the FAFSA in the spring with the admissions deadline looming.
The college admissions process only gets more intense as senior year continues, so Real Frequency recommends parents complete the FAFSA (and CSS Profile if your child is applying to one of these schools) in October. Not only will you have access to federal student loans—whether or not you decide to use them—but you’ll have removed any potential delay to the merit aid process, giving you the most possible time to compare awards, appeal and negotiate (did you know you can do that? Stay tuned for how to do that!), and make the best decision for your family.