The federal government finally listened. Effective for the 2016-17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), a student’s list of school’s will no longer be shared with other colleges, according to an announcement made today by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid.
This has long been a bone of contention among various parties to the FAFSA process. For years, the Department of Education stonewalled requests from families, students, counselors, and financial aid advisers to discontinue the practice of sharing the names of schools listed by a student on the FAFSA form with all the other colleges and universities listed.
Instead, colleges were free to interpret and use this information in any way they pleased. And a cottage industry of enrollment management interpretations were rolled into algorithms used to assess demonstrated interest in particular schools. It wasn’t just the names of competing colleges on FAFSA but also the order in which they which they were listed that came under scrutiny.
And it appeared to matter. Colleges were using students’ preferences to influence admissions decisions, merit scholarship awards, and financial aid packaging—how much grant aid vs. loans and work study.
Financial aid advisers countered by devising any number of clever ways for applicants to list their schools—random, alphabetical, most desired in one of the top three positions, etc.
One of the more thoughtful financial aid experts, Mark Kantrowitz, advised, “One strategy that might work in the student’s favor is to list their second-choice college first. The third-choice college should be listed in the second position and the first-choice college in the third position.”
But it’s all behind us. In the single biggest change for 2016-17 federal financial aid programming, the list of colleges a student includes on the FAFSA will not be shared except with the student’s state agency—not with other colleges.
The Office of Federal Student Aid goes on to assure students and their families that “For federal student aid purposes, it does not matter in what order you list your selected schools.” BUT for state aid, you may want to list your “preferred” college first. And you should be sensitive to the requirements of several state agencies.
According to the FAFSA website, “to be considered for state aid, several states require you to list a state school first. Therefore, if you plan to list a state school in your state of residence as one of the schools in this section, you might want to list it first.”
You can learn more about federal financial aid by visiting the FAFSA website. In the meantime, the high school class of 2016 can celebrate a major victory and be assured that private lists of colleges will no longer be the source of scrutiny and interpretation by colleges and nosy enrollment management staff.