Expert Spotlight: Tony Sutphin on why you should complete the FAFSA even if you don’t think you qualify for college financial aid

Expert Spotlight: Tony Sutphin on why you should complete the FAFSA even if you don’t think you qualify for college financial aid

Tony Sutphin is the CEO of not-for-profit and has worked in the financial aid community for many years. He is passionate about helping families understand that they do not make too much money to be eligible for financial aid. Find out why in the following Q&A.

“Do I make too much money to quality for financial aid funding for my college bound student?” The short answer is no. As a College Financial Aid counselor, I have met hundreds of parents who mistakenly believe that “they just make too much money to be eligible for financial aid.” This is a misunderstanding of the process and all families need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to qualify for loans, grants and most scholarships- both merit and need based.

What is the FAFSA and how is it used? All financial aid reviews at colleges start with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) This is a federally offered financial aid review that allows schools to determine not only financial need but also assess data elements for non-need scholarships and merit aid . This data is used to help determine state and county of birth, major academic choice selections and household sizes, just to name a few data elements reviewed. The FAFSA data is also used for review college federal loan eligibility, where the current interest is only 6.8% for students and 7.9% for parent loans offering many deferment options. The FAFSA is also reviewed for participation in the work study program.

I am concerned about confidentiality in regards to my family and FAFSA information. Is my personal information kept confidential? Yes. All information submitted to the Office of Financial Aid is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA) and is kept in the highest confidence. All files are kept in a safe and secure area accessible only to employees of the Office. Information is released to third parties only upon receipt of a written release from the parent/student. All student and office employees sign confidentiality agreements to this effect and are trained to hold all data as private and confidential.

How does the FAFSA assist our family for scholarships? We have no eligibility for non-need based scholarships and are looking only for merit based scholarships? Many scholarship programs at colleges are awarded based upon donor set criteria and specific criteria are reviewed yearly with the FAFSA data and normally a school specific online scholarship application. It is important to note that the FAFSA and the scholarship application have to be renewed each academic year. Note that all schools have set on- time filing deadlines and meeting those deadlines is critical to getting the best loans, scholarships and other types of aid each year. College’s deadlines are posted each year on websites and in newsprint each academic year as established. To be eligible, your family needs to complete the FAFSA and any school scholarship application. Most merit and academic based awards are now also pulling data from the FASFA as well to help make their academic selections.

If I have completed the FAFSA, how does our college of choice use this data for awarding assistance to our family? The FAFSA allows a college bound student to list up to four colleges for consideration. The process of review is set into motion the moment that a student applies and gets offered admissions to a college. It is only at that time that a college can pull your financial aid data as reported and begin a review for aid to be offered to a family, both need and non-need, so a financial decision can be made for the family.  This process is online at . Colleges then share the FAFSA data each year with academic departments and the Donor Relations Office to help match students with specific scholarships.

Should our family invest in one of the paid scholarship search companies to get the best scholarships that we can? No. Be cautious of websites and internet programs that offer a “fee” to complete the FAFSA form. While such sites invariably make grand promises of grants and scholarships, many are scams and prey upon families who want only to make the process easier. Colleges offer counselors and assistance through the FAFSA process and it is better to establish your relationship with a contact at your desired schools or a nonprofit contact offering services for free.

What if the FAFSA does not give the college a true picture of our current financial status after filing? Completing the FAFSA each year also allows families who have experienced unusual circumstances that drastically change the family’s financial picture to share that with schools. Examples of such circumstances include: loss of a job, death of a parent, separation or divorce, unexpected medical hardships, and changes in family size to name a few reconsideration options. Drastic changes in a family as mentioned above can allow a family to appeal for special professional judgment from their college to ask that financial aid criterion be reviewed again based upon these documented changes to the individual college.

Parents want the best education for their students. While you take great care in planning your stocks and bonds and portfolios, you all need to take a new look at how you are planning for college financial aid. This starts with completing the FAFSA each year for college. This also means being engaged in the financial aid process with your college bound student. It is time to rethink the financial aid process for you and your family – you do not make too much money to be considered.

Tony has served on numerous lender and student advisory committees and works with families on a “pro bono” basis to assist them as they work toward financial aid for their college bound student. He is passionate about financial aid and helping make this opportunity affordable to anyone that dreams of a higher education. He can be contacted at