Over the course of this month, you’ll hear from financial aid experts about how their organizations are tackling this incredibly important step in the college-going process.
Following a mandate put forth by the Louisiana Department of Education that includes the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) submission as a graduation requirement, Louisiana has been the first in the nation for FAFSA completions two years in a row, according to the National College Access Network’s FAFSA Tracker.
The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA), a program of the Louisiana Board of Regents, and our partners have developed best practices that help students and their families navigate each step of the financial aid process. We begin by helping students and families understand that FAFSA completion is not the only puzzle piece to college access and success. To accomplish this goal, we:
- develop strategies to engage students and parents;
- offer student centered wraparound services where students can be guided and supported with help from professionals; and
- collaborate with stakeholders to spread the word on best strategies to filling out the FAFSA.
Though each student’s journey is different, our goal at LOSFA is always the same: minimize student loan debt and maximize gift aid awards.
Providing these wraparound services allows our team to connect the importance of academic persistence to college scholarships and, in turn, begin an organic conversation explaining the financial aid process and student loan debt.
LOSFA’s approach to this is multi-faceted.
- Using a one-on-one approach. One of LOSFA’s strategies for helping students and parents understand the financial aid process is providing line-by-line assistance to complete their respective portions of the FAFSA application. LOSFA works with students during the school day to complete the student portion of the FAFSA and invites parents to the school during the evening hours to complete the parent portion of the FAFSA. This allows us to make sure the FAFSA is completed correctly and the family understands the form and its usefulness.
- Holding multiple opportunities to receive assistance. High school professionals can coordinate with LOSFA to host several events at their schools to ensure a full range of understanding on financial aid opportunities. These events include FAFSA and Financial Aid Seminars where parents and students can learn and ask questions about the financial aid process. We also host an annual FAFSA Completion event at a district-wide basketball tournament where students and their parents can receive assistance. In addition, LOSFA hosts the Financial Literacy for You (FLY) Tour statewide on several post-secondary campuses where students are engaged in learning about financial literacy, the financial aid process, and how to prepare for college.
- Using various modes of communication. LOSFA uses Signal Vine text messaging, emails, and social media campaigns to get the word out about FAFSA, financial aid, scholarships, and other resources to provide college readiness support. We also use one-calls. One-calls are calls made to families by the individual school to inform them of: days and times to expect to see a LOSFA representative on their campus or school, which FAFSA application we will be completing (based on the academic year), and what documentation to bring and provide.
- Providing continuous help outside of the events at schools. LOSFA has a FAFSA lab at our agency that we use if the family cannot complete their FAFSA at the school or upon initial contact. We also meet families at the libraries on the weekends, or at schools at times outside of normal school hours, to provide support.
- Geaux FAFSA. We host an email address (GeauxFAFSA@la.gov) for parents and students to ask FAFSA questions. If we cannot help, we direct students and parents to the FSA helpline or direct them to the post-secondary institution they have been accepted to.
We believe that the aforementioned best practices and our strong support system of high schools, colleges, Department of Education, and community partners are the keys to increased FAFSA completion for our state.
Brittani Williams is a financial aid and career development specialist for the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance in the Field Outreach Division. She earned her Master of Arts degree in Education, specializing in Higher Education Administration at Louisiana State University. She has previously worked in financial aid offices for proprietary schools as well as four-year degree-granting institutions.