FAFSA: Famously Anti-Fair Student Aid?

FAFSA public domain
Ah, the FAFSA — or, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, as it’s officially known. Me, I’m dubbing it the Famously Anti-Fair Student Aid application.


When my oldest daughter was busy applying to colleges, a bit over a year ago, I remember often reading that she should fill out the FAFSA. “Millions of dollars in scholarships go unawarded each year!” I’d read in various places. “The FAFSA is the first step to becoming eligible for this free money!”


Free money? Heck, sign me up! This sounded like quite a deal. Was the FAFSA around when I went to college? Maybe, although I don’t remember it.


Anyway, since I prepare our family’s taxes each year, how much more effort could the FAFSA be, too?


I hadn’t filled out much of the FAFSA before I started getting a little annoyed. It asked for all kinds of personal information. The kicker?


“As of today, what is your parents’ total current balance of cash, savings, and checking accounts?

As of today, what is the net worth of your parents’ investments, including real estate (not your parents’ home)?”


Well then. I realized with a brief flash of horror that I would need to get my husband’s investment specifics from him. He is someone who doesn’t divulge personal information easily. I remember years ago, when we were at a local church for an AWANA event our kids were in. Afterwards, he said to me, “One guy asked where I WORKED!” He said this with a wide-eyed look of horror. I assured him that the guy was surely just trying to be friendly, but he was having none of that (I might add that he is not a CIA spy or anything remotely similar). So — convincing him that I needed the entire total of his investments was not an easy sell.


But, for the FAFSA, you’re required to disclose that. In fact, if you want to be eligible for ANY financial aid from a school whatsoever (even merit-, not need-based), you are required to fill out the FAFSA, or you’re sadly out of luck.


So many things are wrong with this. First of all, I was taught from my youth that saving was a good thing. And I’ve always been a saver — turning down this and that temptation that life throws my way, because I need to save my money for church, for retirement, you name it. To now have that saving used against me and my kids by the Feds seems like a slap in the face.


The randomness of not including the value of one’s home is odd, too. So, according to the government, if I bought a million dollar home and therefore have that much less in savings, I’m more able to finance a kid’s college education than someone who has saved their money and lives in a more modest house? This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.


At a financial aid meeting at the school last year, one parent asked about FAFSA’s curious phrasing: “as of TODAY.” “So,” the guy asked, “what if I withdrew all the money from my accounts today … and then re-deposited it tomorrow?” The session leader grinned. “Well … it does say ‘as of today’,” he answered.


I’m not into doing shady stuff like that, but honestly, I can understand the appeal. Who’s to say a bunch of wealthy people with financial advisers aren’t doing that very thing — and thereby qualifying their kids for federal financial aid?


As to all the scholarship money the FAFSA was allegedly going to open up for us, we saw nothing. Nada. Not one penny. In fact, our “expected parental contribution” was way beyond any annual salary I’ve ever made.


And this is frustrating. Not just to me, either.


I financed much of my own college educations. I expect my kids to pay for part of theirs, too. But, the FAFSA doesn’t take this into account at all. My daughter, who is now in her 2nd semester at college, has said how it feels a bit unfair that some kids she knows have gotten so much financial aid that it more than covers the cost of their college attendance. The extra is deposited into their bank accounts each month. Meanwhile, my daughter heads off to work while they’re ordering pizza and watching movies. It does feel a bit galling, I would imagine.


Then again, maybe it’s good preparation for life?


How about you? Any FAFSA horror stories? Or maybe you’ve hit the FAFSA jackpot? Spout off in the comments. I’d love to hear your perspective. Now if you’ll excuse me — I need to start working on this year’s FAFSA.

4 thoughts on “FAFSA: Famously Anti-Fair Student Aid?

  1. Leon & Linda Seitz are an awesome couple with two sons. Both their boys graduated from college years ago and I just know they are doing well. Leon told me years ago that the more parents save up, the less financial help you will get. You are penalized for being thrifty! Leon and Linda were undaunted and they saved and provided for their sons education anyway. God bless them! They would never play the “gimme” game!

  2. It seems that almost everything sponsored by the federal government is unfair to hard-working, thrifty, middle-classed Americans! Why do illegal aliens do so well on various government handouts, or should I say “freebies”? Why should anyone not a US citizen ever get welfare or Social Security?
    Our family was lucky on sending our two children off to an instate college back in 1976 and 1980. They both were awarded IN state scholarships based on their high school records, one was valedictorian and the other was saluditorian, which helped the most. Also, back then tuition was much more reasonable for the state schools, something like $2,000 a semester, if I remember correctly. Both finished up with no college debts, which is nearly impossible by today’s rules and standards.

    It is just plain WRONG for the government to be so nosy as to have to know every teeny, tiny detail of your family savings, investments, total net worth, etc.! It makes a person wonder if Big Brother is collecting such information for future reference to take over everyone’s wealth, as in Communism or at the very least, Socialism. Reading about your dilemma makes my blood boil! Our nation has become so corrupted that an unwed mother makes out better than your daughter money wise. It is wonderful that your daughter is making her own way in college without much help from scholarships, because she is hard-working and she will be a good citizen instead of part of the “party crowd”. You can be very proud of her accomplishments! Good luck fillings out all of those FAFSA forms!

  3. I think my blood would boil if I had to fill out one of the FAFSA forms. I’ve heard other parents complain about them. But usually their complaining is simply because they don’t want to spend the time to research everything they must complete in order to send in the form.

  4. Everyone should get the equivalent of two years of Community College tuition. Use it for credit-by-exam in high school (college credits) for Community College for Harvard, where ever. Pass the classes (don’t set a minimum–everyone will get that then). Just pass. 48 credit hours. End of discussion. The students who truly need aid–homeless, etc–rarely get the help they need in compiling this form unless they are enrolled in a special program. Schools are terrible. They rattle off jargon, cannot imagine someone not understanding this mystical process and are generally NO. HELP. I watched on Special Needs student try to complete the form with a Financial Aid person’s “help.” I finished it for her. The staff person had no clue beyond her script (not her fault–her institution’s fault). The student, like most, was ready to quit before they started. Too typical.

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