Financial Aid Applications: Should You Apply or Not?

This is the time of year when families of high school seniors start asking questions about financial aid forms.

Most parents will only need to complete the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. A few hundred private schools also require the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE.

I just got a call from a dear friend, who had been notified by Mount Holyoke College about the school’s financial aid deadline. Susanna wanted to know if she needed to fill out the financial aid form.

Susanna is clearly not going to qualify for need-based aid so I told her that she could skip filling out the financial aid application. She is hoping that her daughter qualifies for one of Mount Holyoke’s merit scholarships. Skipping the financial aid forms should not jeopardize her daughter’s chances for a non-need-based merit scholarship, but I told her to contact the school just to be safe.

If your high school senior is applying to a PROFILE school, you should check this week to see when the financial aid deadline is for each college. The deadlines vary by institutions. When my daughter was applying to Dickinson College three years ago, I was mortified to discover that I had missed the school’s PROFILE deadline.  I was relieved when Dickinson gave me a break and let me turn in the financial aid application late.

Even if you’re sure that your family won’t qualify for financial aid, you should fill out the FAFSA if you intend to borrow for college. If you don’t complete the FAFSA, you won’t be eligible for federal student loans, which are the best kind in the student-loan universe.

Many parents, however, will get the cheapest rates by borrowing through a home equity line of credit. The interest rate on my home equity line of credit with Charles Schwab is 2.25%. In comparison, the interest rate for the federal Stafford loan is 6.8%. If I need to borrow for college, it’s going to be through my line of credit.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.

Further reading:

Three Reasons to Apply for Financial Aid

Applying for Financial Aid: 5 Things You Can Do Now

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  1. It was my understanding that all the schools that you send the FAFSA to can see what other schools you are applying to, and that this can play into their merit award decision if they know who they are competing with. If true, isn’t that also a good reason to fill it out?