High School Seniors Still Leaving Money on the Table

To increase FAFSA submissions, studies show that students need explicit guidance to navigate the paperwork

(Image: iStock/PeopleImages)

 

This year’s high school seniors are not submitting FAFSA forms in the numbers that they should be, despite changes that many expected would extend the process and make it easier.

That’s according to a recent opinion piece published by the Hechinger Report, which states that submissions have increased from 1.3 million to 1.7 million, as of March 3. However, more than 50% of high school seniors had not yet submitted their FAFSA forms as of that date. (Though, the piece does not mention if that percentage of students were college bound or not.)

To increase FAFSA submissions, explicit guidance about when and how to actually fill out the form yields better results than telling young people that by submitting the FAFSA they can get money for college, study results show.

Navigating Complexity

 

The piece states, “What if the key to increasing FAFSA completions isn’t selling students on the monetary gain of filing the FAFSA? What if it’s providing those students with more concrete guidance about when and how to actually complete the FAFSA?[ …] Behavioral science research suggests that planning challenges and psychological barriers can deter people from following through on actions they otherwise intend to complete.”

The authors—with other researchers—devised a study that sent prompts to students by e-mail, text, or through postal mail, which included “guidance about important steps in the process, ranging from setting up their Federal Student Aid ID to gathering documents, like income tax returns, that they would need to complete the FAFSA.”

Set Aside a Date and Time

 

The most important of these prompts? Urging students to set aside a specific date and time to work on completing the FAFSA, and encouraging them to set a reminder in their phones. That reminded me of the years when my two children were in college, and I would take off a day from work to complete their FAFSAs. Setting aside that time to just do the FAFSA was key.

The best private schools help their students navigate the college application and financial aid process. Lower income students, whose families are less likely to be familiar with complex looking applications like the FAFSA, need that help even more so. Hopefully, studies like the one discussed in the Hechinger Report will yield changes in policy.

 

For more, go to the Hechinger Report.