Mythbusters: Financial Aid and the FAFSA

By Tom

Okay, now that it’s January 15 and our application deadline has arrived, all seniors applying to college (and their parents) should begin thinking about the next step – applying for financial aid. This means a few things: (1) consider getting your taxes done as soon as possible to make sure everything goes smoothly; (2) start work as soon as possible filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA; and (3) check whether the schools where you’ve applied require any sort of supplemental financial aid application (you can find ours here).

There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding the FAFSA and financial aid – and understandably so, since it’s a very complicated process involving lots of numbers and formulae. Anyone who’s done it before can tell you this. And there’s no way I can cover all of this in one post, but I’ll do my best to clear up some of the confusion.

The biggest misconception I encounter regarding financial aid is that the FAFSA form determines your financial aid package. Let me be very clear on this: The FAFSA does NOT determine how much financial aid you receive.

All the FAFSA does is to impartially, formulaically calculate your Expected Family Contribution, or EFC – how much you and your parents/guardians are expected to contribute to your education each year, based on income and resources. That’s all it does. Nothing more.

How much financial aid you receive, and what your financial aid package looks like, depends on what each individual college or university actually does with your EFC. If your EFC is higher than the college’s total cost, it’s unlikely that you’ll receive any need-based financial aid. If, however, your EFC is lower than the college’s total cost, that left-over amount is often referred to as your Eligibility or your Demonstrated Need – the part you aren’t able to pay.

But different schools have very different policies regarding what to do with that Eligibility. Many universities do not promise to meet this amount, while others promise only to meet it partially. There are fewer than 70 colleges in the United States that guarantee they will meet 100% of your demonstrated need, and the University of Richmond is one of these schools. Carolyn Lawrence, an independent counselor, does some great mythbusting and advising about this on her blog.

So even if you (parents) have sent a student off to college before, and did not qualify for financial aid, please don’t let that deter you from applying again. I worked with a family last year that had sent two students off to college before – one to a public university whose cost was lower than their EFC (so they did not receive any financial aid), and one to a private university that cost well above their EFC but did not guarantee to meet demonstrated need (and they did not receive any financial aid). Based on their past experiences, they did not intend to “waste time” applying for financial aid because they hadn’t received any before. I encouraged them to apply, they did, and they ended up receiving a fairly generous package.

For another real-life example, just turn to’s EFC Calculator and plug in your own numbers. See what it spits out. Keeping in mind that this is just an estimate (but often a pretty good one), see how that estimated EFC compares to the total cost for Richmond ($47,050 for 2008-2009). Whatever the difference, however big or small – we guarantee that we’ll meet it. It’s that simple. It might seem almost too simple, especially if you’ve had past experiences that didn’t seem so straightforward, but remember that only 70 colleges in the country do this. Remember, too, that the number of children you have in college significantly impacts your EFC (to your benefit) – so be sure to take that into account as well.

At Richmond, though, it doesn’t stop just with meeting 100% of your need. It’s also how we meet your need. Within your need-based aid package, Richmond will cap the loans/work study portion at $4000 and award the rest in grant money (free money, which does not have to be repaid). Moreover, if you bring in outside scholarships, we’ll start by replacing the loan portion to give you the maximum amount of grant aid possible and lessen debt.

You might wonder why I seem so excited about this, or why I’m bolding so many things in this (very long) post. The reason is that, even during my first year in admissions, I worked with several families who did not plan to apply for financial aid because they assumed (based on hearsay, stereotypes, or previous experience) that they would not receive any; I encouraged them to apply, and some of them were very pleasantly surprised by the amount of aid they did end up receiving. Richmond is pretty unique in what we do. So everyone should seriously consider applying for financial aid.

If you have further questions about this, or more specific concerns, please feel free to be in touch with our Office of Financial Aid (800-700-1662). We will also be hosting another online chat for parents, focused on the topic of financial aid, which will take place on Thursday, January 29, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Come join us to learn even more!


  1. Astoria Aviles
    Posted January 19, 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this! I am very concerned about the February 15th deadline as my father owns his own business so taxes will take longer. Any suggestions?

    • Tom
      Posted January 22, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Permalink


      Great question. The FAFSA has to be filed by February 15 (that’s a federal deadline), but it can be filled out using estimated/expected tax information. Please contact our Office of Financial Aid (800-700-1662 or if you don’t expect to have your tax returns completed by the end of February.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] make your college decision. Please make the effort to apply for need-based aid, remembering that Richmond is very unique in the generosity of our […]

  2. […] why not apply? Some of the biggest misconceptions I hear about aid are addressed in my Mythbusters: Financial Aid and the FAFSA post from last year. Remember, Richmond is among fewer than 70 colleges in the country that truly […]

  3. […] 15 — and if you’re not sure whether it’s worth applying, make sure you read my previous post that mythbusts financial […]

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