7 Ways to Motivate Parents & Students to Finish FAFSA

“I’ll just write a check to pay for my kid’s college education.” Said no parent you’ve ever met. EVER. Unless you’re up close and personal with Beyoncé and Jay Z.

So why is it so hard to get kids and their parents to fill out the paperwork for federal financial aid?

• FAFSA is one of the few college application forms that doesn’t charge a fee.
• It only takes about 30 minutes to fill it out online – can wait longer than that in a carpool.
• Students can be eligible for thousands of dollars in financial aid.

Even families with high incomes can qualify for the money. Okay, maybe not Beyoncé high income, but regular people high income.

Federal funds won’t necessarily run out, but FAFSA also hooks families up with resources that can. Like school-specific aid. Work study programs. State money. At some schools, kids aren’t eligible for scholarships until their FAFSA is submitted.

You’d think parents would be rushing the gate to their fair share of tax dollars. Not so much.

National statistics show students and their families leave over $2.9 billion (yes BILLION!) in free federal grants on the table each year because they don’t apply for them.

Yep, it’s a yawner all right. Fine. Desperate times call for creative measures.

No Money Left Behind

Motivating two distinctly groups of people (parents and kids) to take a collaborative action could be fraught with pitfalls. Try to engage a few students as a sounding board for your ideas to make sure they aren’t “lame.” Then corral a few parents to act as Getting Money Advocates.

Hashtag #FreeMoney

The nice thing about social media is most every platform loves a hashtag. From Twitter to Facebook, Instagram to Snapchat – hashtags are almost as important as emojis. Granted FAFSA isn’t free money, but it is the best shot at getting some.

  • Get some ideas from kids about how they would put it together.
  • Maybe do a series of posts with kids holding handwritten cardboard signs that say, “Will fill out paperwork for money to go to college.”
  • Try new team approaches broken out by colleges if that works, #TeamColumbia or #TeamNCState.
  • Encourage celebratory selfies after FAFSA submission.

The goal here is to try and build momentum. But remember kids don’t typically like sharing social media their parents.

Doomsday Clock

Nothing like a countdown to nicely nag folks into taking action. “It’s been 18 days since FAFSA started accepting submissions. Do you know how your kids are paying for college?”

Find a widget to add to the school’s Facebook page that will count down the days. Add reminders to the school calendar – 10 days out, 30 days out.

Add fun facts like the $2.9 billion left on the table and if you’re doing a hashtag campaign, put it everywhere. If you have a way to count submissions, add those numbers too.

“57% of the class has submitted their FAFSA forms – have you?”


The No-Drive, No Gas, No-Kid, Skype for Money Meeting

In the past, you might have called a parent meeting in the school auditorium. But using Skype or Google Hangouts for online get-togethers is an easier way to get a bigger crowd. You may have to put in a few off-hours, but if you can get more kids more money to afford college…that’s what this is all about.

Invite parents to an online Q&A about FAFSA. Debunk myths about eligibility. Answer questions. If you think it’s helpful, have an online FAFSA study hall where people complete their applications while hanging out together. If they get stuck, they’re not alone.

A Date with Mom

In some cases, it may be a Date with Dad, but whoever’s involved – parents are suckers when their kids do something cute. Ask teachers to set aside some time for students to write a note – yes, write, not type or text – their parent asking for a FAFSA date night.

Encourage them to be cute and creative. Have the kids pick something to do after the application is submitted – like watch a movie together, go out for ice cream. Promise a kiss on the cheek to end the evening.

Kids may balk but mom will swoon, and everyone is one step closer to money for college.

Peer to Peer Ops

There are always going to be parents who procrastinate. Sometimes it’s because the paperwork seems overwhelming. Sadly, other times it’s because they don’t support attending college. That can leave the student stuck. A secret support squad can help parents get over the hump.

It’s up to you to know where families are in the process and reach out if the situation seems stuck.

Identify people who might work with another parent to help get the paperwork done. If an online submission is intimidating or computer skills lacking, print the form. Get it started, with basics like name and address.

There is a limit to how much you can push, but every student deserves a chance at the money they need for school.
(Be very sensitive to how this is handled. It may be embarrassing for the student and the parent.)

Money on the Table

This is anything but subtle. Have kids paper the house with play money. If you have a budget, buy it in sheets and it with submission deadlines, FAFSA facts and anything else relevant. Once it’s ready, let the kids go wild – papering everything from the front door to the dining room table.

Pictures are good. Videos of parent reactions are even better.

Promo Codes

You already have an email list. Hopefully, you have some idea of how many people open it and read it. If you want FAFSA to stand out, the email has to be promoted.

What about supports in the community. Would a local coffee shop offer a freebie for proof of a FAFSA submission? A month at the gym? You may be surprised how many businesses look for opportunities to have customers walk through the door.

They get a targeted outreach to local customers, and they support a good cause. It’s a Venti win-win!


Having fun is fun. That said, be careful not to get too complicated.

  • Encourage people to help.
  • Don’t expect every idea to work.
  • Find a way to measure – how many this year vs. last year.
    • If no one counted them last year, set the baseline for next year.
  • You can’t make anyone do anything they aren’t willing to do.
  • The family isn’t warm and fuzzy for all kids.

And hey, pat yourself on the back for caring so much about these kids. You change the course of their lives every single day.


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