College Myth: I Should Wait Until I’m Accepted to Apply for Financial Aid

It's a myth that you should wait until you're accepted to apply for financial aid

Flickr user Alex the Shutter

Applying for financial aid can be tough. Beyond the complicated jargon and long forms, financial aid is tricky. Not only that, there’s a lot of conflicting and misguided advice. For example, most people think that they should apply for financial aid after they get accepted. However, this isn’t usually the right approach. We broke down why you shouldn’t wait until after you’re accepted to apply for financial aid.

You may receive more financial aid by applying earlier 

Many institutions have a finite amount of aid dollars. Colleges sometimes award dollars to accepted students on a first-come, first-served basis. Schools have limited scholarships and grants, especially non-competitive gift aid.

For a family, this means that submitting the FAFSA and financial aid application to a college earlier. Earlier meaning before an acceptance letter. That can mean receiving more financial aid .

Because of this, most officials recommend submitting your FAFSA sooner rather than later. This way, colleges can consider the best possible financial aid packages for you.

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You can’t hide your financial circumstances from a college by submitting your FAFSA later

The myth that it’s better to wait to submit the FAFSA stems from the practice of “need-aware” admissions is a myth for a reason. Since most colleges only have a finite amount of aid dollars they are able to award each year, colleges are sometimes forced to turn applicants away. In fact, some colleges deny “marginal” students who they know won’t be able to pay tuition because the college’s limited award money.

Here’s a very real scenario. Less affluent students, after an acceptance, submit their FAFSA. This way, they don’t hinder their admissions chances. However, colleges typically send out financial aid letters around the same time as acceptance letters. Don’t apply late for aid. Students risk missing the best aid, or receive no financial aid at all.

Many colleges require students to submit financial aid documents prior to an admissions decision. The later a student applies for financial aid, the later a college considers what aid to give them. This means that by the time the college gets to you, their financial aid dollars have depleted considerably. Most likely, “need-aware” admissions have this issue.

Financial aid and applying early decision or early action

If you’re applying regular decision, you’ll want to submit the FAFSA as soon as you can after it becomes available online on October 1st. The FAFSA opens on the same day every year.

If you’re applying early decision or action, colleges may request you submit an alternative financial aid form. For example, they ask for the CSS Profile so they can give you your financial aid award early. This will probably be due around the same time as your application.

The sooner you apply, the sooner you can get some financial aid—and potentially more of it! So don’t wait to do your research. College Raptor can help! By using our free match tool, you’ll be able to see the potential financial aid offered by schools from around the country.