Who sees FAFSA information?

My daughter is a HS senior currently working on her college applications. Our fortunate financial situation means that there is zero chance of getting financial aid (which we do not need). My daughter, however, has a decent chance of qualifying for merit scholarships, but many schools require a FAFSA to be completed in order to even be considered for merit scholarships. Even though we don’t need the money, getting a merit scholarship would be a very positive reinforcement for her for all the hard work she has put in during HS.

Everyone says there’s “no harm in filling out a FAFSA” even if you know you’re not going to qualify for aid. My concern is over who will see the financial information that we’re required to include (specifically Parents’ Adjusted Gross Income, Parents’ Total Balance of Cash, Parents’ Investments, Parents’ Untaxed Income) and how securely is that information protected. We have worked hard and been fairly successful at keeping a low public profile from a financial perspective, so I can imagine some scenarios where there is a significant downside if this information “gets out”. For instance, how do I know that this information is not going to be shared with the University’s Development (fund raising) department?

My current plan is to skip the FAFSA and just have her apply for non-university merit-based scholarships that do not require a FAFSA, but I thought I’d check here in case I’m way off base.

Thanks for your time in reading this.

The financial aid office at any school you enter the code for would see the FAFSA information.

Merit scholarships are financial aid. I think what you mean is that your daughter will not get any need-based financial aid.

The financial aid office will see the FAFSA as will the organizations who are administering the merit scholarships

When I was on a board that determined who got merit money, we did not see the actual FAFSa or even the EFC. That number was bundled into the point system used to evaluate candidates. Say, on a 100 point scale , 10 points given for “need”. That point value was already put into the equation and I, nor, anyone else on the committee did not know what each candidate got in that area., whether it was 0 or 10, or anything in between. We only addressed the points we would evaluate But the committee head or someone had to have placed those point values into the equation It would depend entirely on the structure of the scholarship committee.

At a number of colleges, financial aid and merit money are handled by the same office and individuals. At others, Admissions handles the merit awards and the Financial Aid office takes care of need based aid, generally called financial aid even though all money one gets helps financially. In some cases, it’s important to distinguish


The financial aid departments at most colleges are in separate places than admissions. The admissions folks usually have involvement with merit aid…and really, they don’t have the time to schlep over to financial aid to look at your FAFSA form. They just don’t.

If you are worried other colleges will see info, that is not the case. Each college sees only that the FAFSA has been submitted to them…not your whole list.

There are some schools that are need aware for admissions…but all that means is that your ability to pay is considered when your application for admissions is reviewed. This does not have anything to do with the awarding of merit aid.

We were a full pay family. The colleges our kids attended required that both the FAFSA and Profile be submitted even for merit aid consideration as incoming freshmen. We submitted both forms and never thought twice about it. Our one kid got a very substantial performance merit award (based on music audition) and the second kid got a small merit award at the college she attended. That second kid got a HUGE merit award from another college where she submitted her FAFSA.

I’ll stick my neck out and say…i think you are worried about something you don’t need to be worried about.

I agree with @thumper1 . I worked in financial aid. It is against the regulations to share FAFSA information unless there is a specific need to know. I had students who had outside scholarships that required information related to the FAFSA, and I needed the student’s express written request in order for me to share that information. Even then, I was very careful to share only what was necessary for the purposes of the scholarship. Within the school, I strictly limited access to FAFSA information. For example, when our Development staff requested student information related to need, I provided only aggregate or de identified information that could not be connected to a particular student.

I appreciate all of the informed responses.

It sounds like we rely on policies at each university to limit what they do with this confidential information. Hopefully they are all like where @kelsmom worked in that they enforce a policy that limits sharing even within the university. I would imagine the definition of “need to know” for this information could vary by university. I also doubt most people would be shocked if a university database got hacked, so I would assume/hope that from a data security standpoint they treat this information in the same way as social security and credit card numbers.

Thanks again for the useful information that I will definitely use as we move forward with this process.

University financial aid systems are required to be protected, limiting access to only those who should have access. The systems are subject to annual audit.

We were a family with significant financial need, and we still received requests for money from the Endowment area! So for us it definitely wasn’t tied to what we entered on the FAFSA or they wouldn’t have been asking!

I worked at a university for 15 years. Most people could not see financial aid information; it was limited to the financial aid office and those over them (for us, our Dean of Enrollment Management was over Admissions, Registrar, and Financial Aid). Our Endowment office was a whole other entity and had no access to any university data on their own.

Even within the financial aid department, access to information may be restricted. Fines for allowing unauthorized people access to the FAFSA information are stiff, and the Department of Education will not hesitate to levy a fine if it’s warranted. That is a good reason for school administrators to make sure regulations are followed!

“Fines for allowing unauthorized people access to the FAFSA information are stiff, and the Department of Education will not hesitate to levy a fine if it’s warranted.”

Something like this specifically for FAFSA information was what I was hoping to hear - that it’s not left up to an individual university’s policies/practices for enforcement.

I’m now leaning towards submitting a FAFSA. Thank you.

Here is the information related to the regulations:

As I stated up Thread, when I was on a scholarship committee that did require a FAFSA, none of us had access to the form or ANY information on it. The “need” number was bundled with other criteria so that there really was no way to figure out what anyone’s EFC was.