The Florida FAFSA Challenge wraps up at the end of this month, and Florida is still about 19,400 FAFSAs away from reaching the goal of improving FAFSA completion by 5% over last year. One way to boost your school’s FAFSA performance and — most importantly — help ensure your students get the financial help they need to afford college, is to help those who submitted a FAFSA with errors make the corrections they need to complete the form.
“Submitting” the FAFSA is Not the Same as “Completing” It
After over an hour working on the FAFSA, a student and their parent have finally reached the end of the form. They look over their responses, hit submit, and share a sigh of relief. They’ve submitted the FAFSA! Now all they need to do is wait for their student aid report (SAR) to see how much financial aid they’ve qualified for. Right?
Well, not always.
Sometimes, students may submit a FAFSA that is either incomplete or contains errors. In most cases, the student is unaware that there are additional steps they must take to complete or correct their application.
In this year’s FAFSA cycle, almost 5,000 students have submitted an incomplete or incorrect FAFSA. These students have already done most of the required work — they just need a little more guidance to get across the finish line. If these students completed or corrected their FAFSAs, Florida would be 2.4 percentage points closer to our goal!
Helping Students with Common FAFSA Mistakes
Last year, FCAN shared insight on the Top FAFSA Mistakes Students Make based on data we received from the US Department of Education. These common mistakes, such as missing signatures, can be a good starting point to help students identify their errors.
Achieve Escambia, the local college access network (LCAN) serving Escambia County, took on the Florida FAFSA Challenge for the first time this year. As of March 1, Escambia’s FAFSA completion rate (34.7%) already exceeded the county’s completion rate for the 2017-18 FAFSA Challenge (31.9%).
Kimberly Krupa, director of Achieve Escambia, said the LCAN implemented several new strategies and incentives to support students filling out their FAFSA.
“Strategies we are using include embedding a FAFSA navigator inside schools to assist students who are struggling to complete the FAFSA, or who need help fixing errors,” said Kimberly Krupa, director of Achieve Escambia. “We also are using incentives and rewards throughout our challenge, including gift cards and scholarships.”
Finding Out Who Has a Completed FAFSA
Counselors and college access professionals often ask us whether there is a way to identify the names of students with incorrect or incomplete FAFSAs. Through the Florida Department of Education Office of Student Financial Assistance, several school districts enjoy a data sharing agreement with the state that allows them to access this information. Contact your school district to see if you have this information, or to express your interest in having access to data on which of your students completed the FAFSA.
Even without student-level data, however, there are creative ways to identify who has completed their FAFSA. For instance, some schools incentivize FAFSA completion by raffling off items like prom tickets or yearbooks to students who have completed the form. By having students show their student aid report to confirm their submission, you can ensure that they have fully completed the FAFSA without errors.
There is Still Time to Meet the Florida FAFSA Challenge
We are excited to report that, so far, 30 schools have met the FAFSA Challenge of increasing their FAFSA completion by 5%. An additional 78 schools and 3 counties — Escambia, Union, and Taylor — have, to date, increased their FAFSA completion over last year.
“By regularly sharing before-and-after FAFSA completion numbers throughout the Challenge, for example, we have been able to immediately see the need for follow-up events and strategize about reaching more students, adults, families and communities,” Krupa said of the FAFSA completions efforts in Escambia County. “We have built flexibility into our challenge, so that we can redirect our efforts to students and schools who need the most support.”
Two and a half weeks remain in the Florida FAFSA Challenge, so if your school hasn’t met the FAFSA challenge yet, there is still time! Check out the Florida FAFSA Challenge Dashboard to see where you stand.
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