College financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz advised on The Choice blog this week:
Never check off a box that says that you are not applying for financial aid. You can turn down the specific types of aid later. Some colleges will not consider your child for merit-based aid if you indicate that you do not need financial aid. Most colleges practice need-blind admissions, so checking the box will not increase your chances of getting in.
He’s entirely right, as usual. But I’d like to break that down a little more so it’s clear. What he’s saying is:
1. Checking a box saying that you will or will not apply for financial aid will not impact your chances of getting in.
2. If you ultimately get financial aid but don’t want it (which is common with loans that must be paid back with interest), you can decline the loan portion of the aid and accept the scholarship or work study portions.
3. Many colleges offer merit based scholarships for particularly appealing students, scholarships that have nothing to do with financial need. But colleges will not consider students for these scholarships if the student indicates that she is not applying for financial aid. That’s like telling a school you have no interest in free money that doesn’t need to be paid back.
Bottom line: apply for financial aid. You have nothing to lose and potential discounts off the sticker price to gain. For more information, read Kantrowitz’s full answer here, and my past post on the subject here.