Many families think there’s no point in doing the FAFSA because they assume they don’t have financial need. That reflects a fairly limited view of the FAFSA; in fact, there are plenty of good reasons why every family of a student who’s even potentially college-bound next year, regardless of the family’s financial position, should do it.

  • Your family’s financial situation could change. A job loss or medical issue could suddenly make college considerably less affordable, for example. Think of the FAFSA as an insurance policy in case something goes wrong: you’ll need to have completed it to request assistance from your school if things change.
  • College may cost more than you expect. After factoring in housing, meal plans, travel, health insurance, activities and so on, many families find that college costs a few thousand dollars more each year than they had planned for.
  • You may be eligible for more aid than you think. This is especially true for families who are sending their second student to college. Even if no financial aid was granted to the first student, with two in college this could change since your EFC is divided between your two students.
  • The FAFSA may be required for merit award consideration. Many merit scholarships have a need component and thus require applicants to submit the FAFSA to be considered.
  • It’s the only way to access to federal student loans. Families who even think they might borrow will want to start with the federal direct student loan since it has the best interest rates and protections. The FAFSA is required for these loans.
  • A strong financial position can be a plus for admissions. As much as students and families talk about scholarships, colleges and universities talk about finding students who don’t need financial aid. If you’re in a strong financial position and applying to reach schools, demonstrating via the FAFSA that you can afford the full cost may benefit you in the admissions process.
  • A completed FAFSA can give you leverage with your student. In our household this is called the “no tattoos” rule. Whatever your requirements to contribute to college– pursuing a pre-professional major, achieving a minimum GPA, not getting tattoos– chances are you don’t really want your student dropping out of college if they don’t meet your requirements. But if you haven’t filled out the FAFSA, your student’s primary recourse, besides dropping out, is the private loan market.

So, parents of high school seniors or current college students, do the FAFSA if you haven’t already. It’s free, it’s here, and it might just pay for itself.