A New Twist on Financial Aid

Tips for filling out the FAFSA form.

Austin Lesch will graduate from high school in Bethesda, Md., this spring. He’s already filled out applications for nine colleges and universities, and now he and his parents will turn to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), used to determine federal and institutional aid. He’ll have to be just as strategic when filling out the FAFSA as he was with his college applications.

Students can have the FAFSA sent to up to ten schools at a time, but many students may not realize that the order in which they list those schools could influence the size of their aid packages—or even their admission. Mark Kantrowitz, of Edvisors.com, says many schools assume the first school listed on the FAFSA is the student’s top choice. That won’t influence the selection process at the most elite schools, he says, but some second-tier schools pay attention to how schools are ordered—particularly if they’re at the bottom of the list. These schools may reject an applicant in order to increase the percentage of prospective students who accept offers, he says.

And a school at the top of the list may offer a smaller aid package because admissions officers think the student will attend anyway, says Campus Consultants founder Kalman Chany, author of Paying for College Without Going Broke. Chany recommends listing schools in alphabetical order. Or, says Kantrowitz, list the second-choice school first.

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Sandra Block
Senior Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Block joined Kiplinger in June 2012 from USA Today, where she was a reporter and personal finance columnist for more than 15 years. Prior to that, she worked for the Akron Beacon-Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. In 1993, she was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in economics and business journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has a BA in communications from Bethany College in Bethany, W.Va.