How to make sure I get the best financial aid while still deciding between schools.
January 25, 2009 1:00 PM   Subscribe

FinancialAidFilter: How do I decide whether to fill out the FAFSA (for law school) with or without parental info when some schools require and some don't?

I applied to several schools, but there are three main contenders.
School A- I have already been accepted to this school. They require all students under 28 to include parental information on the FAFSA. I'm 24 years old, which means I am not required by the government to include parental info.
School B- I have a good chance of being accepted to this school. They don't require parental info on the FAFSA, but do require parents financial info for students under 28 on a separate form from the school.
School C- I don't have a great chance of getting in here, but if I did, it would be my absolute top choice. They don't require parental information at all for students 24 and over.

Most likely, I will end up in the situation of choosing between schools A and B. School A is weighted slightly higher than school be, but really it may come down to what aid packages I'm offered. C is the most expensive of the three schools, so on the off chance I get in there, I would need all the help I can get.

My parents combined made between $50k-$60k last year, and I made just under $30k, I have a younger sister in her 2nd year of college, and all three schools have annual costs of attendance of $60k-$70k, so hopefully that will make me fairly competitive for need-based aid. I don't receive any parental financial support, though, so I really need as much financial aid as I can get. I really don't want to be working nearly full-time in law school like I did in college to support myself. If some schools don't require their info on the FAFSA, I hate that I'm screwing myself out of better aid (like more subsidized vs. unsubsidized loans) by having to include parental info for the sake of one school. School A says that if I just want student loans, I can fill it out with just my own info, but I don't want to keep myself out of the running for their need-based grants.

I could wait until I hear back from the other two schools so I can better decide what to do, but I know that earlier is better, and finding out what need-based aid I am offered from each school will help me make the best decision.

Any advice?
posted by anonymous to Education (6 answers total)
When I applied to graduate school (not law school, incidentally), I did not have to give the financial information of my parents for any of the eight schools I applied to. What a weird (and cheap, on their part) requirement. I would contact the financial aid office of the school asking for this information and ask if there's any way you can make a statement of financial independence, as you're not receiving any financial support from your family. I would be wary about putting this information on the FAFSA. Subsidized loans are valuable enough that I wouldn't want to risk it . . .
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:29 PM on January 25, 2009

I worked in financial aid for a few years and it is common that some financial aid offices at higher cost institutions (usually med schools or law schools) will ask for the parental information in order to determine which students will receive their limited need-based grant funding (some schools don't even have need-based grants available for grad students). Since you meet the FAFSA definition of independent status (i.e. >24 years old), that will qualify you for the proper need-based sub vs unsubsidized loan eligibility--and sometimes Federal Perkins loans, which might be available to you as a grad student at these schools. But if the schools have additional need-based grant funds available, you should apply for those based on what each school is requesting. I would suggest that you speak with the financial aid offices at schools A and B to find out the chances of receiving need-based grants based on your parents' income (since you have a sister in college--that counts towards the Expected Family Contribution--EFC, and would show a greater need). School C might not request parental information because they don't have any need-based grant funds available and therefore, you would only be applying via the FAFSA for Perkins (possibly) and sub/unsubsidized loans (so there is no need for parental information in this case). Basically, the parental information is only so schools A and B can hand out their limited need-based grants. The loans will be available to you (unless you are in default of a federal loan) either way. Sub/unsubsidized total = $20,500 per year. Perkins isn't always available, but you might receive that if you (the student) have financial need. Then the GradPLUS loan is available to you up to the Cost of Attendance minus other financial aid (and it is based on your credit). Hope that helps.
posted by angry.polymath at 3:06 PM on January 25, 2009

Before I get to the aid question, this jumped out at me: "annual costs of attendance of $60k-$70k" I hope you mean the total cost of attendance for 3 years, because that doesn't sound right even for the priciest of schools.

Chances are, they want that parental information because the schools are offering some kind of merit or need-based scholarships. Since those kinds of monies are awarded by the school, they have right to ask you for additional information (and you have the right not to give them the info, but you likely will lose the opportunity to receive those). A good gauge to use to figure out if you'd be a likely candidate would be is if your scores (LSAT/GPA) are at least above their averages, and better yet, above their 25-75% percentiles. Other factors also come into play, but since rankings are such a big deal for law schools, they will pursue students and offer various incentives to get people that can bump up their numbers for the rankings.

Regardless, I would contact the financial aid offices at each of the schools and ask them exactly the question you've asked here - will failure to include that parental info impact your need-based aid (loans, work-study, etc). They will be the only ones that can tell you for sure what the consequences will be for not including the parental info.
posted by dicaxpuella at 3:19 PM on January 25, 2009

A combined parental income of between $50K and 60K will put you near the low end of parental contributions at most law schools, I'd wager.

Plus, it's not like the schools that don't require parental info are going to assume that everyone who doesn't fill that section out come from homes where neither parent has any income.

Plus, it's not like your situation is unique among 0Ls — I don't remember what the range of financial aid requirements was like when I applied, but I'm sure each of the three schools you mention will see a lot of FAFSAs with parents' info.

Plus, at least at my school, the fact that the FAFSA's parental info section isn't required only reflects the fact that the financial aid requires parental info be submitted on the much more invasive Need Access form, which is submitted to supplement the FAFSA... ;)

There's a lot of benefit to thinking strategically about law school applications, but I think you're making much ado about nothing in this case. Good luck with the rest of the admissions season!
posted by electric_counterpoint at 8:33 PM on January 25, 2009

(Oh, just in case I wasn't clear — the thing to do is to fill out the full FAFSA up front. The only mistake you can make here is waiting too long to submit it.)
posted by electric_counterpoint at 8:35 PM on January 25, 2009

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