To FAFSA or Not To FAFSA? That Is The Question

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In today’s episode of “College Admissions Real Talk”, Dr. Legatt discusses the FAFSA and how it can apply to families seeking aid, whether they need it or not.

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VO: Welcome to College Admissions Real Talk with Dr. Aviva Legatt, a podcast for students seeking to get admitted to top-tier colleges. Each episode will feature an important tip for your college admission success, delivered with candor and love. If you’ve ever wanted to take a peek inside the mind of a college admissions officer, this is your chance. Have a question? Text Dr. Legatt at 610-222-5762. So, what’s your dream school? 

AL: Welcome to College Admissions Real Talk. This is Dr. Aviva Legatt, founder and Elite Admissions Expert at Ivy Insight and author of “Get Real and Get In”. Today, we’re going to be discussing the question “To FAFSA or not to FAFSA”? That is the question. It’s such an interesting and complicated question to FAFSA or not to FAFSA for many people that I work with whose family income falls between $80,000 and $350,000. Many of our clients fall within this range, so some earn more, some earn less, and can benefit from all different kinds of scholarship. Before I talk about to FAFSA or not to FAFSA, I want to talk a little bit about strategic money planning, which is an activity that parents have to do, typically in conjunction with their children in some way. Although may not include them. Strategic money planning essentially involves a series of steps where parents are going to move assets, adjust balances from one ledger to another in order to maximize their financial aid that they could receive on the FAFSA. That is a huge and important step that so many families fail to take before applying for college. So right now, when this episode is dropping, we’re in the early part of 2021. The FAFSA opens up on October 1 of every year, and so now is a good time for your parents, or if you’re a parent, for you to look at your money planning. So, where is your money? How will asset be counted for or against your ability to receive need-based financial aid? And again, it’s surprising, but many people who don’t apply for financial aid actually do qualify. So people earning between $80,000 and $350,000 can often qualify for aid, but they’re not applying because they think that they don’t need it. So that’s the first step. And fortunately, through Ivy Insight, we have unlimited college affordability planning as part of our program, so definitely contact us. We’ll be glad to help you if you want to look at these money questions for your family. So, the second piece is this admissions piece of the FAFSA. So, what does the admissions committee think of students who apply for need based financial aid? How does that impact potential results? So, I’ll just go on a quick sidebar for any international students and parents on this podcast. So, for my international students and their parents, it’s important to note that the vast majority of colleges are not need-blind when it comes to international students. They will want to know how much you can contribute to your education and how much they would have to fund you. For the vast majority of us colleges, international students provide an important source of revenue to the college. So, in the vast majority of cases, international students will be able to receive any kind of need-based scholarship from colleges themselves. So, for international students, I would say if you cannot pay the full fare of the college, before you apply, make sure that you look for those external-funding sources, and I would not select that you want to apply for any kind of need based financial aid. Now, FAFSA aid is specific for United States students, so this is a federal program designed to help students and their families pay for college. And in terms of the impact on admission, it’s very interesting because most colleges say that they’re need-blind, but the reality is that on the Common App they ask you, “are you planning to apply for financial aid”? So, in a way, they’re not need-blind. They may not know your specific financial situation, but they do know that you are planning to apply for financial aid. My advice for students and families who are considering applying for FAFSA, but they’re not sure if they should would be to do that strategic money planning step before they apply to make sure that it’s really worth it to apply for financial aid, not applying for financial aid, particularly when you don’t need it is actually an advantage because the colleges will be happy to take the full ticket price for college tuition, which they don’t usually get for most students. So, not applying for the FAFSA can provide an admissions advantage, but I would not encourage anyone to take that admissions advantage unless they could truly pay comfortably for college without any kind of need based financial aid. So, to sum up. First step: strategic money planning. Second step: decide if you should apply for FAFSA aid given your family financial situation, and definitely apply for FAFSA aid if you can and will qualify. The third kind of financial aid that I want to share with you is merit aid, and so, you will automatically be considered for some merit-based scholarships at certain colleges where you’re applying. For example, the University of Virginia offers different kinds of scholarships. They have additional questions you need to fill out at the University of North Carolina. Same thing: additional questions you need to fill out. This is not an exhaustive list just giving you a couple of examples here. There are also external merit scholarships you can apply for, and I suggest creating an account on capex.com to see what kinds of merit aid programs you may qualify for as a student So, these programs can go to students who have high financial need or those who have lower financial need. There’s no–other than your time–there’s no risk to applying to these programs. I would recommend that you start researching and make a list of scholarships that you would be eligible for so that you can start these applications. Finally, many people don’t know that they qualify for something called medically-based financial aid. This is not something that you apply for when the admission cycle is happening, it’s actually something you apply for after you get your admissions decisions and it’s a program that is provided through your state. So every state has some kind of vocational and rehabilitation office that may have funds to help students who have pre-existing conditions. For example, anything related to asthma, allergies, mental health; there are a number of conditions which are covered in your state that may qualify you for additional funding. So if you have been diagnosed with any of these types of conditions, I recommend looking at your state’s vocational rehabilitation office to see how you would qualify for those programs. So with that, to FAFSA or not to FAFSA? Did you get your answer? I hope so. The idea is you need to strategically plan where your money is located and how that money is paying for college. If you qualify for financial aid, definitely apply for it and everyone should try for merit-based aid and everyone who qualifies should try for medically-based financial aid. Until next time.


VO: College Admissions Real Talk is hosted by Aviva Legatt, edited by Stephanie Carlin, and produced by Incontrera Consulting. I’m Caroline Stokes and this has been your daily boost of college admissions insight. Have a question? Text Dr. Legatt at 610-222-5762. For more information on Dr. Legatt and Ivy Insight visit www.ivyinsight.com. And you can pick up Dr. Legatt’s book, “Get Real and Get In”, at major retail outlets across the world. Insight out.