When students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), one piece of the application includes listing the colleges the students plan to apply for admission. Students are asked to list up to 10 colleges on the electronic version of the FAFSA to send their financial information. For most colleges, students must submit the FAFSA to be considered for financial aid. However, unbeknownst to the students, the list and order of the colleges is also made available to the institutions and is sometimes used during the admissions and financial aid process.
The FAFSA does not instruct students to put the colleges in a specific order. However, many students are placing the colleges in order of their preference. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), an organization of college counselors and admissions officers, has asked the federal government to stop providing this information to institutions. The organization believes some colleges are using the information to disadvantage some students who apply for admission and financial aid. They also say some colleges are using the position in which they are placed on a student’s list to determine admissions decisions, wait list placement, and the size of the financial aid award.
The U.S. Department of Education said last year it will review the longstanding policy, but no changes have been made. On Thursday, NACAC sent an email message to members regarding this issue explaining their stance that institutions should not receive this information, and if they do, the list should be random or in alphabetical order. Some admissions officers, on the other hand, have expressed the important of this data. By looking at the order of the list, institutions can predict yield, the number of admitted students who will ultimately attend their institution.
In the email to members, NACAC said, “while students may volunteer this information, the association believes that a student’s right to keeping such information private is an integral part of maintaining a fair admission process.” Even if the Department of Education does not make a change to the policy, NACAC’s discussion of the policy and the use of the information is making its way to school counselors and students. While most colleges do not use the information to disadvantage students, they should be aware this information is being shared with colleges and ask admission officers how their institutions use the information.
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