Most recent college admissions news has centered around the Common App and the technical issues that are keeping students from completing and submitting it. But Inside Higher Ed is putting another online application in the spotlight: the way you enter information on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) could be used against you.
The FAFSA is completed each year by millions of students seeking help paying for college. When you complete it, you're asked to list the colleges you're applying to. You're not asked to list them in order of preference--but that's the way some colleges are interpreting it. And as we've discussed many times before, "demonstrated interest" can be the key to acceptance (read more here). Schools want to accept students who actually plan to attend; the percentage who do (known as the yield) is a statistic that can make a school look more--or less--selective. So if you listed them tenth out of ten, they might not want to waste an admissions slot on you.
The Department of Education is now reconsidering their practice of sharing FAFSA information with colleges, but until and unless they decide to change that practice, here's one simple thing you can do to make sure your FAFSA isn't being used against you: list colleges in alphabetical order. You won't be giving away any information unknowingly as schools can't interpret preference from such a list.