Order of Colleges on the FAFSA Could Affect Financial Aid

on May 5, 2017

The order in which colleges are listed on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) could affect how much financial aid you receive.


Students have a tendency to list colleges in preference order, with the first-choice college listed first. This is not necessarily the best order in which to list colleges on the FAFSA.


Some colleges discovered that the position of a college in the list of colleges on the FAFSA correlated with the yield. If an admitted student listed a college first on the FAFSA, they would enroll half to two-thirds of the time. If an admitted student listed the college second, the yield was a quarter to a third. If an admitted student listed the college third, the yield was about 10 percent. The yield dropped off further with the colleges listed in the fourth and subsequent positions.


Some colleges used this information, which is a form of demonstrated interest, to influence college admissions and financial aid decisions. It lead to strange situations in which a student would be admitted by top colleges but rejected by second and third tier institutions.


This is no longer a problem, however, because the U.S. Department of Education stopped sharing the list of colleges with colleges in early 2016.


Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Education continues to share the list of colleges with state grant agencies. The U.S. Department of Education has abandoned plans to randomize the list before providing it to the grant agencies. Some state agencies will consider a student for state grants only if the student lists an in-state public college first on the FAFSA.


Thus, students should list colleges on the FAFSA in the following order:

  • List an in-state public college first, to ensure that you qualify for state grants
  • Then, list the remaining colleges in chronological order by financial aid deadline, so that the colleges with the earliest financial aid deadlines get the FAFSA data first

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