FAFSA and Demonstrated Interest

FAFSA, Interest and FAFSA, FAFSA College List

Ivy Coach calls upon FAFSA to change or remove entirely the question in which it asks applicants which other schools they intend to apply to (photo credit: Jawed Karim).

While we don’t write often about financial aid on our college admissions blog, we wrote yesterday about how FAFSA’s form in which it asks applicants to list the colleges to which they intend to apply to is absolutely unacceptable. College admissions is, at least in part, a game of social psychology. College admissions officers, when reviewing FAFSA forms, often can’t help but notice the order in which students list colleges. It doesn’t take much data mining to use prior applications and see if students who listed a school somewhere in the middle or towards the end actually matriculate if admitted. The intuition of these college admissions officers is likely correct. Students who list a college somewhere in the middle or at the bottom of this list might not be all that excited about the school. And why would a school want to admit someone who isn’t into them? Would you want to go on a date with a guy who isn’t into you? Likely not.

For students filling out the FAFSA form, you should list schools in alphabetical order. Beat the college admissions officers at their own game on this particular point. But, more importantly, we hereby declare war on FAFSA with respect to the wording of this question. If the question needs to be asked in the opinion of FAFSA, fine. But mandate that schools be listed alphabetically or reorder them in the program to be listed alphabetically if a student doesn’t follow the instructions. It’s quite simple.

This fall, Ivy Coach essentially declared war on the Common Application, questioning if the Common App. was restraining trade by financially penalizing universities that did not offer their application on an exclusive basis. We wrote extensively about the many problems students, parents, and school counselors have been having this fall with the Common App. and we encouraged universities to join the Universal College Application. Many universities since have. FAFSA, that’s all to say that we’ll be leading the charge going forward to get you to change your grossly unethical question. Who is with us?


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  • Jeff Vogelgesang says:

    I wonder if a different approach than a “declaration of war” against FAFSA might be more effective, and “war” might even be unnecessary. They are in the financial aid business, not the admissions business, and unlike the “restraining of trade” by the Common Application, I doubt FAFSA would be financially penalized if they change the objectionable practice. I wonder if they are even aware of what may be an “unintended consequence” of their question. If they have not considered this, if someone approached them and asked: “Are you aware that applicants are being rejected at selective colleges because admissions offices make inferences based on the order in which students list the schools you ask for or the number of colleges they apply to?” and explain why this is happening, a person having influence to change their policies might say, “Oh, we never considered that admissions offices were doing this” and might actually be eager to change or eliminate the question without a shot being fired. They certainly have no vested interest in applicants being hurt by their questions, or so I would think. If it turns out that they are aware and for some reason are unwilling to change, or you have already tried diplomacy and it has not worked, then “leading the charge” would most certainly be appropriate, and I would encourage you to do so with vigor.

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