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Now that the FAFSA application period is open, it’s key that schools start planning on how to reach out to students and families and support them in completing the FAFSA and other financial aid applications. And one way schools can prepare is by adopting best practices from other schools and sharing resources with each other!

Since the start of the New York FAFSA Challenge, The Education Trust–New York has recognized 36 schools as FAFSA challenge winners — those with the highest completion rates throughout the state .and those that showed the greatest improvement, among other criteria. Each school receives a scholarship to award to a graduating high school senior who is planning to attend college in the fall and is from a low-income background and/or a first-generation college student.

The approaches these schools have taken are successfully getting more students access to financial aid and scholarships, and can serve as models for other schools across New York State.

The winners’ innovative approaches include:

  • Hosting financial aid workshops in multiple languages for families after -school and on Saturdays where families have access to computers and one-on-one support.
  • Training groups of senior student leaders to assist classmates.
  • Hosting “college chats” with students in small groups and individually to help students better understand the college application and financial process.
  • Carving out all lunch periods as time for students to meet with a counselor and work on the FAFSA.
  • Providing opportunities for students and families to meet one-on-one with counselors virtually or in person to complete the FAFSA to ensure privacy.
  • Conducting daily outreach to students who have not yet completed the FAFSA and/or have not brought their documents to school on time, by sending emails, personal phone calls, text messages, and robocalls to families.
  • Offering a college readiness course for seniors, where students learn about the various types of financial aid and grants.
  • Partnering with local colleges and universities to provide undergraduate and graduate volunteers to help students fill out their applications.
  • Integrating “FAFSA Fridays” into school culture.
  • Ensuring every mass communication to students and families — such as morning announcements and more — mentions information about filling out the FAFSA.
  • Creating a Facebook page or group for seniors and their families to share important information.
  • Collaborating with local community organizations for extra staffing and volunteer support.

For more strategies you can use for FAFSA completion, download the FAFSA toolkit!