Financial Aid Texting: An Overview
One topic that is surely familiar to all college staff is financial aid. Admissions staff, student services employees, and perhaps even instructors have at some point in their professional lives been questioned by students about financial aid processes. This is because financial aid processes are some of the most daunting for students.
This is especially true for graduating high school seniors who fail to file a FAFSA before graduating. In fact, according to Inside Higher Ed, more than half of these students don’t know anything at all about financial aid. Just as unfortunately, only about 45% of high school seniors file a FAFSA before they graduate. This leaves a massive chunk of students behind on getting financial aid to help cover the cost of college.
The National College Access Network (NCAN) makes an interesting observation on this. Certainly, there is no shortage of financial aid information. A quick Google search for “financial aid information” yields 950 million results. The problem, NCAN writes, is that the information is simply not getting to the students who need it most. What complicates this is that the students who need information most don’t even realize they need it.
So, what can college staff do to make sure the right financial aid guidance gets to the right students?
The need for financial aid texting
By now, you might get the impression that we consider texting the solution to all the world’s problems. While we don’t believe texting can bring about world peace (although we’d all probably be much happier if we sent and received more GIFs), we do believe that financial aid texting is worth a shot. Why? We’ve seen it work.
Take our blog about college persistence rates for instance. Researchers partnered with Signal Vine to text students to remind them to refile the FAFSA after their first year. Students who don’t refile the FAFSA are more likely not to persist to their sophomore year of college. Even worse, community college students who did well their first year were three times less likely to refile the FAFSA when compared to their counterparts at four-year institutions.
Clearly, there is some confusion for students regarding refiling the FAFSA. Text nudges have proven to help solve this problem. In fact, students who received texts to nudge them to refile the FAFSA were 12 percentage points more likely to enroll and stay enrolled in their sophomore year of college.
But how do we get students to their first year of college in terms of financial aid? Let’s dive right in.
Financial aid texting
Many of our college access and college partners use Signal Vine to text students about financial aid processes. They text to ask if students have filed a FAFSA, if they need help doing so, and if they need help understanding their award letter. Some partners use the platform to remind students of scholarships they might be eligible for to make college costs a little less threatening to students. Even others invite students to apply for work-study opportunities to earn extra cash.
We recommend launching a FAFSA filing strategy in October in conjunction to the open date of the FAFSA. The next three months can serve as a push to get students to file the FAFSA, to attend area workshops, and to reach out to your staff if they need one-on-one assistance with filing.
Then, from January to February, we recommend switching the focus to scholarships. Many scholarship deadlines occur in late spring, so this strategy will help students meet deadlines.
From February to March, admissions staff might consider texting students about their award letters. Many students are perplexed or even intimidated by their award letters. Having someone from their college patiently walk them through what their award letter means can make a huge difference for students. Finally, in early summer, we recommend texting students with relevant work-study opportunities.
Need more ideas?
Over the summer months, we'll update our blog with some additional financial aid tips and tricks. Also, we have specific tips for each message category described above in our eBook Nudging Students Through the Academic Life Cycle. Feel free to download this resource and discuss ideas with your team. Happy texting!
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