The Common App asks "Are you requesting need-based financial aid"? Here's your answer.

The Common App asks if you are applying for financial aid. How should you answer?

The short answer is no.

Here is the long answer (if you are asked the same question later in the process).

Choose from the following:

If you do not anticipate qualifying for need-based financial aid

When we completed the Common App, we did not plan on requesting need-based aid. We then attended a seminar that explained the benefits of completing the FAFSA. In fact, we are not requesting need-based financial aid. We are requesting an adjustment of the cost of tuition to make the cost more competitive with other colleges we are reviewing.

If it turns out you DO anticipate qualifying for need-based financial aid

When we completed the Common App, we had no idea what the question meant, so we answered no. We then attended a seminar that explained the possible benefits for which we may be eligible.

We have also come to understand that we needed to complete the FAFSA even to have access to government student loans.

When we completed the Common App, we did not realize how drastically our finances changed from the base year.

I want to also explain a few reasons why the question appears on the Common App in the first place.

  1. Data gathering. Colleges want a general sense of their applicants’ needs.
  2. Though almost all colleges say that their application process is need-blind, meaning they make acceptance decisions on the academic application only, some colleges have been suspected of “peeking” at financial information in the final phase of the acceptance decision.
  3. It has been shown that asking the question deters families from requesting all forms of financial aid.

The fear is that by answering yes, you might have an adverse impact about your child being accepted (i.e. the college will look more closely at an applicant requesting financial aid than a student who is not requesting the aid).

Need-based financial aid is mostly governed by a formula. It is your right to receive need-based financial aid if you qualify. This is the process in which we explained that the FAFSA requests information about the parents’ income and savings and the student’s income and savings. Whether a family does or does not qualify for need-based financial aid has nothing to do with your intent during the academic application process. Except for early decision applications, colleges will not receive the FAFSA until after most admission decisions have been made.

Lastly, despite the fact that it seems the college wants to know whether or not a student is going to request need-based financial aid, the overwhelming amount of need-based aid is funded by the Federal government, not the college.