Notes from the Field: Creative Campaigns Driving FAFSA Completion

financial aidThe Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the key to unlocking funds to pay for college. Yet each year 2.3 million low-income students never apply. But at the American Sign Language and English Secondary School in New York City, where many students are first generation college students, first generation Americans, and are the children of deaf adults, an astounding 88% of seniors have already filed their FAFSA.

Their secret? College Summit Peer Leaders are leveraging the power of peer influence to demystify the FAFSA and provide support to students and families as they navigate the financial aid process.

ASL Peer Leaders and their Advisor Gabrielle Johnson recently organized a financial aid night: Peer Leaders played an instrumental role in recruiting families to attend the event and helping seniors create their FSA ID – a necessary first step in completing the FAFSA.

Volunteers from Deloitte LLP and College Summit’s Education Leadership Council worked closely with ASL families to fill out the FAFSA and state aid applications. Deloitte generously provided food for the event which, as Ms. Johnson explained, is a crucial part of making the event truly accessible to families: “Food allows the parents and families to come to the event straight from work. If the parents have to bring a younger sibling, the food alleviates their hunger so the parents and student can concentrate.”

Deloitte volunteers also found inspiration in their work with ASL students. Volunteer Amanda Hale recalled riding down the elevator with one student and her mother after the event: “The looks on both of their faces – a mix of pride, accomplishment, and excitement for the future – will stay with me for a long time. Moments like that – and knowing how these students’ lives will be forever changed with a college degree – are so rewarding.”

PeerForward coach Gary Linnen called the event “a huge win for American Sign Language High School,” adding that, “We had students and parents that were ready to give up and leave, but with the help of our Peer Leaders talking to students and telling them ‘you are almost there’ and the volunteers supporting parents by being patient and relatable – we were able to persevere!” Ms. Johnson explained that, by the end of the event “all of our families left smiling.  Most of our families were relieved at how much support they were given and how quickly they were able to complete the applications, especially our undocumented parents.”

ASL High School is one of many communities where College Summit Peer Leaders are applying their creativity and dedication to help educate their peers about the FAFSA and make college a financial reality for all. Here are some of our favorite campaign strategies from around the country:

  • At Coconut Creek High School in Florida, Peer Leaders hosted a College Application Lockdown. The event was attended by 40 students, many of whom completed at least one college application. Coconut Creek Peer Leaders are now in the process of planning a second event to capitalize on this great success, and have reached out to their writing coaches from the summer workshop to lead a personal statement writing workshop for seniors.
  • The Peer Leader team at Confluence Academy in St. Louis, MO, advocated for increased parent turnout at their Senior Parent Meeting.  They collaborated with their student government and, as a result, half of senior parents attended.  All parents and students in attendance learned about upcoming senior initiatives and created their FSA ID.
  • At Sebring High School in central Florida, Peer Leaders supported 80% of their senior class in completing at least one college application and receiving application fee waivers from South Florida State College.
  • Peer Leaders at Dunbar High School in Washington, DC hosted a College Application Social, at which seniors who completed three or more college applications received a sticker and a cupcake.

Filing the FAFSA can be daunting, but it is also one of the most important steps high school seniors can take to put themselves on the path to college. As ASL High School Peer Leader Jonae Adams put it, “We as a team think that in order to improve our community we have to improve ourselves and our peers, and college is the best way to do that – which starts with FAFSA.” College Summit’s Peer Leaders are running creative and impactful campaigns to help their friends take that first, crucial step, and we can’t wait to see what they think up next.



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