NEW YORK – The Education Trust–New York today recognized 12 public high schools across New York State for their work helping students complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a critical step toward enabling students to access the financial aid that can be a key factor in whether students who are from low-income backgrounds have the opportunity to attend college.
Winning high schools — where at least half of students are from low-income backgrounds — each receive $750 to award a scholarship to a graduating high school senior who is planning to attend college in the fall and is either from a low-income background or a first-generation college student. The New York FAFSA Completion Challenge recognizes high schools for high FAFSA completion rates and for improvements in FAFSA completion rates since 2019 in multiple categories based on region of the state and school size.
These 12 schools exemplify a commitment to helping students access critical financial aid and support them in completing their applications. Statewide, the FAFSA completion rate as of June 2, 2023 was 60%, up a little more than one percentage point from the same time last year. The completion rate at this time, however, is already higher than the statewide completion rate at the end of the 2021-22 school year, 59.2%. While these small gains are good news in reversing pandemic trends, a gap in completion rates remains large between New York State schools that have the largest shares of students from low-income backgrounds (58.6% completion rate) and those with the smallest shares of students from low-income backgrounds (66.9% completion rate).
“A competitive postsecondary degree or credential can change a student’s trajectory by putting them on the path to earn a family-sustaining wage and civic engagement,’ said Dr. Dia Bryant, executive director of The Education Trust–New York. “Financial aid can be a key factor in whether students from low-income backgrounds, students from immigrant households, and first-generation students have the opportunity to attend and complete college. We applaud the diverse efforts of the 2023 New York FAFSA Challenge Winners and hope their work models best practices for schools across the state.”
The winning schools are:
- In New York City Top performers (for schools with at least 100 seniors): Science Skills Center High School for Science, Technology and the Creative Arts
- Improvement (for schools with at least 100 seniors): Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College
- Top performers (for schools with less than 100 seniors): Bronx Leadership Academy II High School
- Improvement (for schools with less than 100 seniors): East Bronx Academy for the Future
In the Big 4 School Districts (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers)
- Top performers (for schools with at least 100 seniors): Yonkers Middle High School
- Improvement (for schools with at least 100 seniors): James Monroe High School
- Top performers (for schools with less than 100 seniors): Leonardo daVinci High School
- Improvement (for schools with less than 100 seniors): Riverside Academy High School
In All Other School Districts
- Top performers (for schools with at least 100 seniors): University Prep Charter High School
- Improvement (for schools with at least 100 seniors): Williamsburg Charter High School
- Top performers (for schools with less than 100 seniors): KIPP Academy Charter School
- Improvement (for schools with less than 100 seniors): Eugenio María de Hostos Charter School
About the winners:
In New York City:
- The team at Science Skills Center High School for Science, Technology and the Creative Arts utilized time during non-core classes such as physical education or lunchtime to set up appointments with students and the counseling team to support with FAFSA and Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) completion. The counseling team tracked which students completed their forms and followed up with students and their families as needed. The FAFSA Challenge scholarship recipient, who wishes to remain anonymous, came to the United States in 2016. He has since learned English as a new language and been on the honor roll each semester. He is a member of the National Honor Society, My Brother’s Keeper, and the Martial Arts Club. He will attend SUNY Stony Brook University in the fall.
- Middle College High School at LaGuardia Community College organized individual appointments with students, small seminars, and weekly Zoom events for students and families to ensure they had the information they needed to complete the FAFSA. Katelyn, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, is diligent and self-motivated. She was the first in her class to complete her college applications, financial aid forms, and performance-based assessments that were required for her to graduate. Katelyn will be pursuing a nursing degree in the fall.
- Staff at Bronx Leadership Academy II High School provided many virtual options on weeknights and weekends to meet with families and students about financial aid applications to ensure everybody had the opportunity to attend. As such, the school set aside funding for each session so that the college advisor could conduct these sessions one-on-one with families to complete FAFSA and Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) applications. During these sessions, the college advisor shared his screen and filled out the applications while families gave him their information from their own homes, which many felt comfortable doing. Lynette, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, will be attending St. Bonaventure University in the fall, where she will be a member of the rugby team.
- The East Bronx Academy for the Future offers a senior seminar class, where students receive help with all applications for college, including financial aid. The class also helps students navigate college acceptances, schedule college advisor meetings, and create their class schedules once they commit to a college. Additionally, staff follows up with students who still need to complete their FAFSA by calling and texting them to offer support. Ibrahim, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, has always carried himself with strength and tenacity. While he is an American citizen, he has lived most of his life in Saudi Arabia. He joined the East Bronx Academy for the Future community during his junior year and immediately sought opportunities to challenge himself and become involved. During the summer, he takes College Now courses, including a financial literacy and marketing class. Ibrahim will attend Alfred University in the fall and major in business.
In the Big 4 School Districts (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers)
- Staff at Yonkers Middle High School prioritize bilingual communications and outreach about financial aid applications to reach all families. This process begins in students’ junior year, when students attend presentations about what financial aid is and what to expect when they are a senior. During senior year, staff hosts an informational FAFSA night, where financial aid officers from local colleges attend. Additionally, staff members organize a FAFSA completion night, where numerous financial aid officers from local colleges are present to assist families by appointment. At both events, financial aid officers are available to speak with families in English and Spanish. Moreover, school counselors are available to assist throughout the year. If a school counselor does not know the answer to a question posed by a student or their family, they will refer them to one of the financial aid officers they work with at a local college to ensure they receive a timely answer. The FAFSA Challenge scholarship recipient, who wishes to remain anonymous, is determined and charitable. In her junior and senior years, she challenged herself by taking rigorous International Baccalaureate courses and excelled. She will be attending SUNY New Paltz to study biology in the fall. Outside of academics, she is involved with the photography club, Health Occupational Students of America, and helps with food and clothing drives through the church she attends.
- James Monroe High School holds two events throughout the year to support FAFSA completion. School counselors call families beforehand and schedule time slots to make certain it works with their schedules. Aside from advertising these events, staff shares other local events with families, such as those hosted by the Rochester College Access Network. Tommy, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, strives for excellence in the classroom. He attended both FAFSA events with his father to complete his financial aid applications.
- The team at Leonardo daVinci High School utilized a variety of measures to assist students in completing their financial aid forms. Through a partnership with Say Yes to Education Buffalo, the school had access to a college access counselor on-site two mornings a week to help seniors with the FAFSA. Students also attended FAFSA workshops hosted by Say Yes to Education Buffalo. Throughout the year, the guidance team set up one-on-one appointments with students and called families and sent mass text messages to remind them of important deadlines. Brooklyn, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, is a first-generation college student who has always challenged herself to take rigorous courses. She has been a consistent member of the honor roll. Brooklyn is a member of the Scholar of Social Justice program at Buffalo Public Schools, where she was named a Scholar of Equity. Through the program, she works with her peers in BPS on social justice advocacy. Outside of school, Brooklyn is involved in countless community service projects where she works with members of the community to improve the lives of teens in Buffalo. She will attend Hilbert College and major in forensic science in the fall.
- Riverside Academy High School works closely with the Student Leadership Network to boost FAFSA completion. The network is a college-bound initiative that focuses on guiding students through their college and financial aid applications. In conjunction with the Student Leadership Network, Riverside Academy staff hosts Financial Aid 101 and Financial Aid Completion Day events for students and families. Students also have the opportunity to take a college transition class to learn about the college-bound process. Much of this work is spearheaded by Riverside Academy’s college counselor and the College Access Team, which is composed of faculty members going the extra mile to keep seniors on track and ready for postsecondary success. Benedicte, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She will attend the building maintenance program at Erie 1 Boards of Cooperative Educational Services in the fall, where she will learn carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and interior finishing trades. Benedicte hopes to use these skills to work in real estate to buy, flip, and resell houses.
In All Other School Districts
- The team at University Prep Charter High School hosts two virtual presentations — one in the spring of junior year and one in the fall of senior year — for students and their families to understand the financial aid and college application process. Moreover, the college counselor works with each student to complete their FAFSA application. To ensure the process goes smoothly, the college counselor also obtains tax documents from families and helps parents/guardians set up FSAID accounts. Nicolas, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, will attend DePauw University as a Posse Scholar on a full academic scholarship in the fall. However, the scholarship does not cover room and board, and the FAFSA Challenge scholarship will be a big help to him.
- Students had constant access to college counselors throughout the school year at Williamsburg Charter High School. Additionally, the school hosted multiple FAFSA completion workshops, where students and their families had access to the school’s college and career coordinators on weekends. To meet students’ scheduling needs, the school also gave students an option to sign up for virtual assistance after-school. Students also participated in a college and career seminar course to learn about their postsecondary options and complete their FAFSA. Cavary, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, is hardworking and determined. He moved to the United States from Jamaica with his family two years ago. While this was a cultural shift for him, it did not deter him from his goals. He adjusted quickly to the change in culture and academics and has been on the principal’s honors list for the past two years. Cavary will attend Hunter College and study Spanish and French in the fall with hopes of becoming a foreign language teacher.
- The team at KIPP Academy Charter School kicks off the school year by setting a FAFSA completion goal for all students by February. FAFSA completion initiatives begin before then during the second semester of junior year, including information sessions about how to file taxes successfully for the college application processes. All events and initiatives are conducted in English and Spanish. In the fall, the school hosts a Senior Family Brunch for senior families on Saturday where school staff goes over college and financial aid application timelines. In October, staff supports students considering early action/early decision applications. Then, in January after most other regular decision college applications have been submitted, the school works with all students to complete their FAFSA. The school comes together to celebrate meeting their schoolwide FAFSA completion goal in February. Randy, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, is an active member of the KIPP school community. He always tries to be his best self by taking the most difficult courses and trying different extracurriculars and clubs. Randy will attend SUNY New Paltz in the fall.
- Eugenio María de Hostos Charter School works closely with students and their families year-round to successfully transition them to life after high school. Students have the opportunity to attend career fairs and visit local colleges. In particular, the school hosts a Senior FAFSA Night, where school staff and financial aid representatives from St. John Fisher University help students and families with financial aid applications. The school provides individual and online assistance for families that cannot attend the event. Teana, who will receive the FAFSA Challenge scholarship, has been an exemplary student and member of the Eugenio María de Hostos Charter School community since third grade. Outside of academics, Teana participates in school sports and clubs, including volleyball, softball, student government, and the yearbook club. In her free time, she volunteers at community food pantries. Teana will be the first in her family to attend college. She will attend Monroe Community College in the fall to study public health with the goal of transferring to St. John Fisher University’s nursing program.
The Challenge was part of The New York FAFSA Completion Project, a statewide campaign launched by Ed Trust–NY to encourage public high schools to increase the proportion of eligible students who complete the FAFSA and help identify and elevate best practices to support students in completing the FAFSA.
Explore data for each high school in the state, read more about FAFSA completion strategies being used at New York schools, and find additional resources at NYFAFSAChallenge.org. Complete Challenge rules can be found here.