When working to increase rates for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), cradle-to-career partnerships are always looking for proven, easy-to-replicate strategies that lead to results. Through the work of StriveTogether’s Postsecondary Enrollment Impact and Improvement Network, we know the effective strategies used to make sure that more students successfully completed the FAFSA.
1. Implement in-class interventions.
In most states, FAFSA completion work can be used to meet state curriculum standards. Partnering with high school economics or social studies teachers to have students complete FAFSA as a class or homework assignment provides them with the opportunity and support needed to complete the FAFSA.
2. Use student-level and/or school-level data.
In most states, school districts have the ability to track FAFSA completion at the school- and/or student-level. Using school-level or, better yet, the student-level data helps to identify the students who are or are not completing the FAFSA. This allows school districts and their partners to focus their work on the specific students or schools needing the most support.
3. Build a school- or campus-based FAFSA team.
School- or campus-based FAFSA teams improve staff awareness about the importance of FAFSA completion and how they can help. Convening a team (assistant principal, guidance counselor, central office staff, Gear Up partners, etc.) on a monthly basis allows its members to review the data and discuss strategies for how to reach students who have yet to complete the FAFSA.
4. Host FAFSA-only events.
The most successful FAFSA events, like a FAFSA completion night, were the ones that just focused on FAFSA because it created the space and time for students and families to focus. Identifying a champion for each event helped determine the best time of day for the event to ensure the best attendance possible.
5. Assign appointment times.
Assigning students an appointment time to complete the FAFSA, either during a completion event or the school day, makes the meeting or event seem mandatory. The appointment times were not strictly enforced and there was no penalty for missing an appointment, but the assumed accountability associated with the appointment time dramatically increased completion rates.
6. Frequently monitor data.
Most school districts across the country have the ability to access weekly or bi-weekly FAFSA completion data either from their state’s department of education or the U.S. Department of Education. Monitoring completion rates either weekly or bi-weekly allows school district staff and community partners to get quick feedback on the effectiveness of their FAFSA completion work and helps keep FAFSA completion at the front of everyone’s mind.
7. Partner with local postsecondary institutions.
Partnering with local postsecondary institutions can help significantly with FAFSA completion. Financial aid staff are experts in their field and can provide additional capacity and support during FAFSA completion efforts. Additionally, financial aid staff can provide insight on what is specifically preventing students from getting the financial aid they have applied for — often times it’s a simple as a missing Social Security number or mismatched identification numbers.
8. Connect work to its impact with run charts.
Run charts, or time series charts, can be used to connect FAFSA completion work with the result (the number of FAFSAs completed during the work period). As a result, run charts are incredibly powerful tools for partnerships that want to understand the impact their work is having on students.
9. Create a FAFSA phone bank.
Having a scheduled event where parents, guardians and students can call in to ask questions about completing the FAFSA was a very successful way to reach families who didn’t want or need to attend a completion event.
10. Test small before going big.
All of our teams intent on FAFSA completion selected a specific high school or population of students as the focus of their initial work. Each intervention allowed the teams to learn what worked well and what could be improved before scaling the work across multiple high schools or districts.