We recently came across one of the most interesting articles we’ve read in some time on highly selective college admissions on “Inside Higher Ed.” In an article entitled “Using FAFSA Against Students,” Ry Rivard details how what you type in on your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms can mean the difference between an acceptance and a denial. If you’re a regular reader of our college admissions blog, while we don’t write much about financial aid, it should come as no surprise to you that details matter in college admissions. If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you also know that psychology matters. We write quite a bit on the psychology of college admissions.
Well, did you know that the order in which you list schools that you’re intending to apply to on your FAFSA form matters? It sure does. Because a college admissions officer at Duke can see that you’re also interested in Northwestern, Williams, Dartmouth, and Stanford. And order matters because college admissions offices have noticed over the years that the school which they list first is the school the student most wants to attend. Why admit a student who doesn’t show demonstrated interest, who lists your school seventh on the list? Demonstrated interest matters because a college wants to have a high yield. They want to admit students who have intention of actually matriculating.
Doesn’t this strike you as a little bit dirty? But, hey, the highly selective college admissions process is a bit dirty. This is but a small part of it. You shouldn’t be surprised. If you’re filling out a FAFSA form, list colleges in alphabetical order. How easy would it be for FAFSA to mandate that you list the schools in alphabetical order? Now that would end this whole discussion.