As college access professionals, we often make the mistake of trying to reach students and parents with language that is confusing. Terms like “degree attainment,” “postsecondary plan,” and “FAFSA completion rate” may roll off the tongue for us, but they mean little to the students we seek to serve.
Rather, our students are wondering, “Where should I go to school? How do I get in? And if I do get in, how will I pay for it?” That last question is usually the clincher. In spite of the fact that most students qualify for some form of financial aid, and millions of financial aid dollars go unclaimed every year, many Floridians continue to believe that a college education is unaffordable.
Why are students leaving this free money on the table?
Changing the Way We Talk About Financial Aid
The problem may be, at least in part, the way we talk about financial aid with students. A survey by the National College Access Network in 2016 revealed that most students who don’t apply for financial aid don’t know about financial aid options.
Advertising help with “FAFSA completion” is unlikely to be effective with these students. Many students and parents don’t know what the FAFSA is. Others assume they make too much money to qualify, or mistakenly believe that federal financial aid dollars are tied to academic merit. Still others don’t realize that completing the FAFSA may be necessary to qualify for state aid, institutional aid, or certain scholarships.
Furthermore, even the term “financial aid” itself can be confusing to those from a non-academic audience. To address this issue, some partners have started to use more impactful language.
UnidosNow Employs a New Strategy
UnidosNow — an organization in Southwest Florida committed to connecting first-generation Latinx students with access to college, and a key partner for both REACH Manatee and Talent4Tomorrow — recognized the shortcomings of traditional methods for promoting financial aid nights.
In an effort to capture students’ attention, they began promoting their events with flyers advertising “Free Money for College and Technical School.” These flyers were made in Canva, a free tool folks can use to make eye-catching materials.
“It’s a clever way to get the word out,” said Mimi Cirbusova, the Young Professionals Group Coordinator for the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and leadership team member at Talent4Tomorrow, which is providing funding for these fliers. Their goal is to cut through the noise and buzzwords around financial aid, and help students understand that they could, in fact, qualify for free money.
Additionally, UnidosNow is working on training its students to promote these FAFSA events through peer-to-peer interactions. Hearing from another student who has already received a financial aid award can be a great motivation to complete the FAFSA.
Make a Flyer for Your Event
Want to try out this strategy in your community? Check out our blank flier to add information about your organization.
Need More FAFSA Resources?
Florida FAFSA Challenge Toolkit
The Top 4 FAFSA Mistakes Students Make
Florida FAFSA Challenge Dashboard