Report: School Order on FAFSA Has Little to No Bearing on Aid Amount

Quick Takeaways

  • Selective colleges and universities do not appear to be lowering their financial aid packages in response to the listed order
  • 66 percent of students who listed only two colleges attended the college in the first position

By Charlotte Pollack, Research Analyst 

A study highlighted in Inside Higher Education found evidence suggesting students are listing institutions on the FAFSA in order of preference, but a new report, "Strategic Use of FAFSA List Information By Colleges," finds selective colleges and universities do not appear to be adjusting their financial aid packages in response to the listed order.

The report’s authors examined 5,239 students from the 2011-12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS) who were full-time, first-time beginning students at four-year public or private nonprofit institutions that completed their FAFSA on or before May 1, 2011. This sample represented more than 656 institutions and averaged eight students per institution. Initial examinations of these applications showed just over one-third listed only a single institution and the median number of colleges listed was three. The majority – 66 percent of students – who listed only two colleges attended the college in the first position.

Overall, the effect of listing a school first on the FAFSA is not significant in predicting the amount of aid received, the report said. The one exception was found at moderately selective schools, which generally have less institutional funding to spend, and offered students who listed their institution in the first slot 5 percent less than those who did not. This practice is explained by the use of models that forecast matriculation probabilities and create different types of aid packages for students based on a variety of variables such as campus visits, email and phone contact, and college fair attendance (beyond FAFSA ranking order). However, in practical terms, the results suggested that students who would normally be awarded $10,000 in institutional grant funding end up receiving around $500 less.

Comments NASFAA submitted to the Department of Education on the second draft of the 2015-16 FAFSA support continuing to provide schools with the list of all institutions students select, but randomizing or alphabetizing them. This would address concerns about undesirable use of the school listing, while allowing institutions to continue their efforts in fraud prevention, specifically at community colleges. It was also suggested that the above language be altered slightly to lessen confusion by first time applicants.

As previously highlighted in Today’s News recent changes to the 2015-16 FAFSA on the Web (FOTW) and paper FAFSA included:

  • Text will be added to the “School Selection” page in FOTW, stating:  

“All of the information you report on the FAFSA will be sent to each college listed, including the names of the other colleges listed. If you don’t want this information sent to a particular college, do not list that school on your FAFSA.”

  • Text will be added to the “School Selection Summary” page in FOTW, stating: 

“For federal student aid purposes, it does not matter in what order you list your selected schools. However, placing a school that participates in your state's student grant programs first may help you obtain state grant aid. Check with your state grant agency for more information.” 


Publication Date: 3/6/2015

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