Your FAFSA College List is No Longer Visible to Other Colleges' Admissions Offices
The folks at FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) have been busy this summer! First, the Department of Education has reached a settlement to acquire the misleading domain name FAFSA.com from a private company that confused students and families by offering to help complete the FAFSA for a fee. Just because "fee" is just "free" without the "r," doesn't make it the same thing!
More importantly, beginning with the 2016 FAFSA, the colleges you send your financial information to will no longer be able to see to which OTHER colleges you've sent results. It's been alleged, with some degree of evidence, that some colleges used your application list to judge how serious you were about them, and whether you were worth investing a good financial aid package on. In other words, if Middle-of-the-Pack University saw that you were also looking at Prestigious Ivy College, MPU might offer you a lousy financial aid package believing you were just using them as a Safety School anyway. College search consultants had begun to advise students to list their colleges alphabetically so as to disguise their intentions or preferences.
Navigating the college search and financial aid process shouldn't be a high stakes game of "chicken" where both parties are reduced to subterfuge and cheap tricks to gain the advantage. It's easy to see how students and families can come to believe that gaining admission to college and receiving financial aid is a matter of discovering a secret password or finding the cheat codes online somewhere.
I applaud the Department of Education for taking an important step in de-escalating some of the craziness out there. The real trick--and it isn't really a trick at all--to the college admissions process is pretty straightforward:
- Recognize that the goal is a college where you can learn and grow and access a high quality education rather than a prestigious bumper sticker for the car,
- Prepare yourself well in high school by taking rigorous courses, and studying hard, and
- Seek out expert advice as needed, from someone who knows the higher education landscape.
It's OK to blink.